How to Responsibly Recycle Your Holiday Packaging

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The holidays are a time to spend with family and friends, to give and to receive...and to accumulate a lot of extra packaging. Fear not: There are plenty of ways to responsibly recycle after a season of packing on the packaging. 

The holiday season is here and gone, and while many people were finishing up their to-do lists, wrapping the last of their presents and finalizing their travel plans, members of the waste and recycling industry were preparing their fleets, landfills and materials recovery facilities for the large influx of waste and recycling materials. During the holiday season, municipal solid waste systems handle 25 percent more waste than usual. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 80 percent of that waste can be recycled or reused. 

From wrapping paper to Christmas trees to plastic bags and more, households in the United States alone generate much more waste than usual during the holidays ranging from Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day.

Much of this additional waste can be recycled, reused, donated or even composted. Here are a few tips:

  1. What to do with packaging: 

Traditional bubble wrap and packing peanuts (not to be confused with Pregis void fill, which we’ll get to later!) can't be recycled, but they can be reused. Wrapping paper can be recycled, provided the gift wrap doesn’t have foil or glitter (a good rule of thumb: if you can rip it easily, it’s likely OK to recycle). Ribbons and bows can't be recycled but can certainly be be reused—if they’ve lost some of their “stickiness,” just add a bit of double-sided tape! 

Cardboard boxes can be recycled but don’t forget to flatten them first. Envelopes and paper cards can also be recycled alongside the other paper mail you receive over the holidays. 

  1. What to do with food-related items:

Many food and beverage containers can be recycled, but make sure the items are empty, clean and dry. Plastic bottles can be recycled but not their lids, unless they are at least 3 inches in diameter (tricky, right?). 

Take extra care to prioritize recycling glass bottles, as they can take as much as one million years to break down naturally in a landfill. Plastic bottles can take 700 years to decompose, and for aluminum cans, it's 80 to 100 years (it’s a good practice to just recycle everything that can be!). 

Got food waste? (Come on, we know you didn’t eat that fruit cake.) Consider composting your food scraps, especially fruits and vegetables (you can even use the compost later as a soil additive). Composting reduces methane-gas landfill emissions and can enrich your soil

  1. Disposing of grocery bags:

After all the extra grocery shopping you did to prepare for Christmas dinner, potlucks, etc., you likely have a few more grocery bags than usual. Plastic grocery bags can be recycled, but it's best to bag them together rather than discard them individually. Many supermarkets and retailers have bag drop-off bins, usually near the store’s front entrance. Better yet: Bring reusable bags when hitting the stores.

  1. What to trash: 

Unfortunately, used plastic gift cards and credit cards go in the trash rather than the recycling bin. (Be sure to cut up credit cards if the account is still active, as a fraud-prevention measure.) 

Broken ornaments and dishes also go in the trash, but intact ornaments and other decorations that you no longer want, use, or like can be donated and given a second life. 

Especially these days, gift-giving holidays increase the likelihood of receiving electronic gifts. 

There's a good chance you might receive an electronic gift (or two), so if you're getting rid of old electronics, take them to dedicated household hazardous-waste collection sites rather than tossing them in the trash. To find the right site, call your local municipal government office or your local law enforcement’s non-emergency line. 

  1. And finally, what to do with the tree: 

Christmas trees and wreaths can be dropped off for composting at nearby collection sites.

Discarded trees dropped off at compost-collection centers are chipped up and used in landscaping as mulch. Some locations even use discarded trees as soil-erosion barriers or as fish havens in ponds, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Other questions about what can be recycled—and how to recycle it? Look no further: Pregis’s partner How2Recycle has the answers. 

And finally, as promised, how to recycle Pregis void fill? First, congratulations on choosing the most sustainable and responsible packaging and void fill option available—you’ve made the recycling process that much easier! Keep in mind, Pregis’ void fill products cannot be placed into curbside recycling bins. Most mixed-use recycling facilities are not equipped to handle flexible materials with the same processes that manage harder goods. These materials can only dropped off at sites that accept plastic used for packaging, wraps or commercial/retail bags. The easiest way to recycle void fill cushioning materials is to reuse them inside the packages you plan to send out to friends and family this holiday season. 

Items like bubble wrap, holiday ribbons and bows, gift bags, cellophane and packing foam or polystyrene foam can’t be recycled, but they can be reused or repurposed. Additionally, product packaging made of heavy cardboard and plastic can only be recycled when the cardboard is separated from the plastic, and sticky gift tags are only recyclable if they are affixed to an envelope or wrapping paper. 

Unfortunately, if these items or other non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle items make it into a recycling facility, they can harm equipment and pose potential dangers for employees. 

However, you can recycle clean, dry plastic bags and film (don’t forget to remove receipts or any other items from bags).

Some examples include:

  • Retail, carryout, produce, newspaper, bread, and dry cleaning bags (clean, dry and free of receipts and clothes hangers)
  • Zip-top food storage bags (clean and dry)
  • Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels), bubble wrap and air pillows (deflate)
  • Product wrap on cases of water/soda bottles, paper towels, napkins, disposable cups, bathroom tissue, diapers, and female sanitary products
  • Furniture and electronic wrap
  • Plastic cereal box liners (but if it tears like paper, do not include)

Remember: Sustainability starts with the packaging you choose. That’s why Pregis is part of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition

New technology, new products, new processes—Pregis is always innovating to improve the impact packaging has on the world. 

Pregis is dedicated to reducing the consumption of virgin raw materials and packaging waste and devoted to the inclusion of recycled content in manufacturing whenever possible, offering recyclable options and helping to educate customers on the recycling options available to them. For example, Pregis’ Renew packaging products are designed to meet the growing need for sustainable packaging alternatives, offering environmentally-conscious companies the choice to go green.

By finding the right solution for every packaging need, nothing is wasted and products stay damage-free, reducing the returns that add up in fuel and energy costs to the environment. At Pregis, we’re on a mission to help you choose the solutions that perfectly answer any application, so you can be confident you’re doing your part to protect our environment.


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