This Green Life
A monthly journal of sorts by Sheryl Eisenberg

DECEMBER 2011 (links updated 2013): This holiday season, try having your cake and eating it too. Just don't throw it in the trash!

Holiday Guide to Reuse & Recycling
Tips on handling holiday waste

For many people, the excess of the holidays is one of the season's attractions...until the celebrations are over. Suddenly, the waste seems almost criminal. Ring a bell? Then, you'll be happy to learn about these ways to put the waste to good use.

Extra Food
Should you find yourself with too much food after your feast (more than you could possibly turn into leftovers), reach out to a local food bank to see whether you can donate the excess to help feed people in need. If you know from past experience that you're likely to have this problem, call in advance so you know where to take it while it's still fresh. Better yet, try portion planning when you cook and avoid the problem altogether.

Last Year's Electronics
Don't underestimate the value of your old computer when you get a shiny new replacement for the holidays. That "clunker" was worth something the day before—and still is. Maybe you employ someone, such as a home health aide for an elderly parent, who would benefit from it. A local school or charity might want it. Heck, you might even be able to sell it on eBay or craigslist.

If there are no takers, recycle it. Laptops of any make can be dropped off at a Dell Reconnect location, as can most computer accessories. A partnership between Dell and Goodwill, Dell Reconnect uses proceeds from the resale of systems, parts and recovered materials to help fund Goodwill's mission of putting people to work.

If you have a Mac or iPad, bring it back to Apple for recycling. PCs are accepted, too. Apple promises that if the machine has monetary value, you will receive an Apple Gift Card for the amount. The same applies to iPhones and iPods.

Did you get a new mobile device? Bring or mail it to Recellular or one of many other cellphone donation and recycling programs.

Just remember, when donating or recycling any equipment with personal information on it, you need to wipe out the memory first. This is very important to protect yourself from financial and identity theft—and simply to keep private stuff private. Here are instructions for completely erasing data from PCs, Macs and all manner of cellphones.

Last Year's Fashions
If you receive new duds for the holidays, consider donating any old items that you won't be wearing anymore to The Salvation Army, Goodwill or one of the other organizations that take used clothing and shoes. Winter is an especially good time to donate a warm coat. You can also resell your old clothing at a local thrift or vintage shop or participate in a clothing swap.

Toys that Have Lost Their Luster
Unfortunately, while crayons can be recycled, most toys cannot be—in part because they're so often made with toxic materials (a sad commentary on what kids are exposed to every day for lack of adequate health and safety regulations). However, you can avoid the future need for recycling toys by renting instead of buying them. Just google toy rental and you'll find a number of companies offering the service.

Christmas Trees
Artificial trees should be put away for reuse next year. If you haven't bought a tree yet, consider a real tree instead, which many communities recycle nowadays (check to see if yours does). Generally, the recycled trees are chipped and converted to mulch. If you get a potted tree instead of a cut one, you can replant it afterwards in your yard or donate it to a park or church for replanting. (Note that replanting is only possible if the ground hasn't frozen yet.)

Christmas Light Strings
At the end of the holiday, put Christmas lights away carefully so they'll be in good shape for the following year. If the original packaging is no help, rip the side off a large cardboard box and wrap the string around it, cutting notches in the cardboard if necessary to hold the string in place. No need for your lights next year? Donate them to a local charity or offer them to someone who wants them on freecycle. If some of the bulbs are broken or there are other problems with the lights, recycle them at Holiday LEDs. The lights will be recycled responsibly and you'll get a coupon worth 25% off a new purchase.

Wrapping Paper and Holiday Cards
If you unwrap gifts carefully, the paper can be trimmed, saved and reused next year. Otherwise, it can be recycled with other mixed paper. If the wrapping is still ahead of you, consider buying reusable bags to wrap your presents in. They'll double as additional gifts and will help the people who receive them shop more sustainably year-round. You can get a grab bag of 6 reusable bags from ChicoBag for $24.99.

Holiday cards can also be recycled with mixed paper products (just pull off any non-paper gewgaws that might be attached). Alternatively, you can cut them up into small gift tags for use next year. When buying new cards, choose the smallest ones that can accommodate your message.

—Sheryl Eisenberg

Join me on Facebook

Recycling ribbon


Join me on Facebook

Related TGLs

Green Holiday Entertaining Green Holiday Entertaining
How to reduce the footprint of your feast

The 3R's Still Rule The 3R's Still Rule
The better alternative to buying green

Clothes Disposal Clothes Disposal
Getting rid of last year's fashions responsibly

On This Topic

Revive a Rainforest Gift
FOR NATURE LOVERS IN YOUR CIRCLE, give NRDC Green Gifts. My favorite is Revive a Rainforest. It costs just $15, and NRDC plants a tree in the Costa Rican rainforest in the name of your friend or family member. You can't find a more meaningful—or waste-free—gift than that!

RECYCLING ELECTRONICS is much easier than it used to be. There are now many options for donating or recycling your old laptop, tablet or cellphone when you get a new model—from Dell Reconnect to Apple to Recellular. Just be sure to clear off your personal data first.


A Season for Giving, Not for Discarding

Reducing Holiday Waste

Your Guide to Holiday Gadget Recycling

The Story of Stuff
Reclaiming the Holidays

Green Gifts
The Tree Choice

Also see resources embedded in the text.

More to Do

This Green Blog Switchboard Save Biogems
Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (, she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.
Share | |
Find NRDC on