Recycling Christmas

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of waste produced by Americans increases by 25% during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. (This is approximately 1 million extra tons of trash each year!) Personally, I think the best way to have an environmentally conscious holiday season is to plan ahead. Unfortunately, my husband and I had other things on our minds, so—other than using LED lights on our tree—we didn’t put much thought into this. Fortunately, even without preplanning, I’ve discovered a number of simple ways to reduce holiday waste.

Wrapping paper

  • Shred pretty wrapping paper with a paper shredder (or by hand). Use the shreds to line the bottoms of gift baskets or bags, or pack them around breakables for protection during storage or shipping.
  • Use multi-shaped hole punchers (e.g., star, heart, flower) to create confetti for upcoming parties and showers.
  • Large pieces of wrapping paper can be used as protective covers for textbooks.
  • Empty picture frames can be made into works of art by framing pieces of wrapping paper. Similarly, mat frames around photos can be customized by wrapping them with the paper.
  • Both children and adults can use wrapping paper to complete numerous crafts (origami, scrapbooking, collages, lining boxes or envelopes, making clothes for paper dolls, etc.).

Christmas cards

  • Clip circular or rectangular pieces from the fronts of cards to use as gift tags on presents.
  • The fronts of cards are usually a good weight to use in place of cardstock in scrapbooking.
  • Cards can be formed into a number of creative Christmas tree ornaments. Do a quick internet search for ideas.


Remnant wax from Christmas candles can be remade into a “new” candle. First, gather the remnant wax. Pillar candles can be broken into small pieces with a hammer, tealights can be pulled out of their tins and broken in half, and wax remaining in glass jars can be carefully scraped out with a butter knife after soaking the jars in warm water for a few minutes. Select a glass jar into which to pour your new candle. Cut a piece of candle wick in the appropriate length (the height of the jar plus 3 inches). Pull the wick through a wick sustainer until 1 centimeter of wick is at the bottom of the sustainer. (Wick and wick sustainers can be purchased at craft stores.)

Wick in candle jar.

The dowel should lie across the top ledge of the jar, keeping the wick upright.

Place a 2-quart (or smaller) sauce pan on medium-low heat. Place the wax remnants in the pan, stirring occasionally with an old spoon. Once the wax is melted, add food coloring or scented oil (if desired). Dip the wick sustainer and the 1 centimeter of wick beneath it into the melted wax. Using the spoon, press the 1 centimeter of wick to the wick sustainer until the wax has cooled. Dip it into the melted wax again and allow it to cool. Tie the long end of the wick onto a dowel or stick. Dangle the wick sustainer into the jar, lowering it until it touches the bottom of the jar. The dowel should lie across the top ledge of the jar, keeping the wick upright (adjust how the wick is tied to the dowel, if needed). Pour the melted wax slowly into the jar. Allow to cool. Trim the wick so it only projects out of the candle by 1 centimeter. Burn as you would any other candle.

Christmas tree

If you have a real tree, check with your local waste services agency to find out what recycling opportunities are available in your community. Most communities have programs in place to recycle Christmas trees as mulch.

Christmas lights

Check with your local waste services agency to see if old Christmas lights are accepted for recycling. Additionally, several online and brick-and-mortar retailers will provide coupons for energy efficient LED lights in exchange for old Christmas lights that are surrendered for recycling. Check online and with local home improvement, department, and grocery stores to see what opportunities are available.

What are your favorite ways to reduce waste over Christmas?

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