Recycling Mysteries: Holiday Cards, Wrapping, Decor

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A whopping 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sent every year along with countless miles of wrapping paper adorning our gifts – only to end up torn apart and usually in a huge garbage bag.

And what about Christmas décor items, like plastic boughs to decorate the staircase that won’t make it another holiday, or outdated bows, plastic tree skirts and broken tree stands? Turns out that though it seems unlikely, quite a bit of this stuff can be recycled and reused.

Holiday Cards

  • Reuse Ideas: Collages, Art Supplies, Post Cards, Gift Tags, Bookmarks, Picture Frames

Any relatively plain holiday card can actually be recycled as long as it doesn’t contain one of those music inserts, a plastic piece or layer or anything metallic. If it’s just plain paper, it can be included along with other paper in your curbside pickup. Most cards fall into this category, so even if you end up tossing the other ones, it will at least be a smaller volume.

There are a number of creative projects you or your kids can do with used holiday cards. They can be used for craft projects, and the cold dark months following Christmas and New Years are the perfect time for such artistic activities. Many holiday cards have all sorts of non-holiday related illustrations and pictures that can be fun for kids to collage with as well.

If your kids aren’t into collaging (or you don’t have a lot of children around), you can send cards to kids who will. Or check with your friends who are teachers or who work at schools as they are usually open to receiving art supplies.

Cards also make great bookmarks, gift tags for packages or makeshift frames for pictures on the fridge or bulletin board. And if you remove the back of the card, it can be popped in the mail and used again as a postcard.

Wrapping Paper

  • Reuse Ideas: Storage Spruce-Up, Book Covers, Drawer Liners

Like cards, most wrapping paper can be recycled on the curb with other mixed paper. Again, don’t try to recycle any metallic prints, paper with embedded ribbon or anything that’s obviously made out of something other than paper. You can always save the paper and use it again, if it’s in decent shape. But there is so much more you can do with the lovely printed paper than that!

Cover shoe boxes with used wrapping paper to create attractive storage boxes for any room in the house. Wrapped in pretty prints, you can leave these boxes out for all to admire make some room in your overloaded closets. See how to do it perfectly here.

You can also use this paper to cover books that tend to get trashed, like cookbooks or kids’ textbooks. You can also spritz with your favorite perfume and line your drawers with the paper, which will lend a lovely scent to your clothes.

Ribbons and Bows

  • Reuse Ideas: Gift Wrap Library, Decoration Accessories

I always reuse ribbons and bows multiple times, to the extent that for the last five years I haven’t bought any, and now I have a collection of all sorts of package-top décor. A way to extend the longevity (and class up) ribbon use is to use real ribbon. You can often find rolls of discontinued colors and patterns at the fabric store, and it can be used as a fun hair accessory or to dress up your next gifted bottle of wine or bunch of flowers.

Home Décor

  • Reuse Ideas: Donation, Packaging, Gardening Additions, Fragrance, Organizers, Decor in Other Spaces

For difficult-to-recycle items like plastic wreaths and goofy figurines, there are a number of ways to go. First, if the items are still in good condition, consider donating them to Goodwill or Salvation Army, as someone else might love Aunt Martha’s hand-painted snowman, too.

Next, check with your local pick up program to see if there’s a drop-off for some items. For example, in many communities, plastics that can’t be recycled curbside are accepted at a specific location- giant plastic figurines and such might fit into this category, and it would be worth a drive to drop them off rather than sending them to the dump.

Lastly, is there something you might be able to do with the décor to at least make it useful before it’s thrown away? Plastic garlands can be used for packing material for the next package you ship, and colorful broken ceramic pieces can be used as edgers in the garden or as filler at the bottom of an oversized pot.

If you have real garlands that are dried out after the festivities of the season, you can strip the needles and use them to fill small cloth bags that will scent your drawers and closets year-round.

Out-of-date plates can be covered in fabric and used to hold keys, mail, jewelry or other easy-to-lose items. Or they can be broken up and used to make mosaic designs for mirror or picture frames.

With a little creative thinking, much of what you might toss in the trash can have a second (or third!) life after the holidays.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Dec. 20, 2010. It was reformatted and updated on Dec. 5, 2011. You can see the original version here.

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