Holiday Waste Guide: Can I recycle wrapping paper?

Not all holiday packaging is created equal. Some wrapping papers are recyclable and some aren't - and lots of gifts come wrapped in extra cardboard and plastic. So can you recycle wrapping paper? Sometimes. The best way to recycle it is to reuse it - and then check the label on the roll or the back side of the paper to see if it's recyclable. As a rule, paper without a waxy coating or glittery decorations CAN be recycled.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American household waste increases up to 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which translates to one million tons of waste per year. Milton residents are part of this trend: over the last ten years, Milton’s waste around the holiday season increases by just over 10%. Milton performs better than the national average, but there are still some ways we can curb waste around the holiday. However, curtailing your waste doesn’t mean curtailing your fun! You may even find that you prefer these holiday habits to your old ones.


  • Keep it simple. Keep your holiday dinner menus simple – not only will you reduce holiday stress, but you won’t have to buy peculiar ingredients just for one menu item. If you find that something is a must-have, plan ahead for to use all of each ingredient so that nothing goes to the trash.
  • Use ALL of the turkey. If turkey is a holiday essential for you, don’t forget that you can reuse the bones and scrap meat to make a delicious turkey stock, gravy, and soup – even better than canned gravy or broth.
  • Eat more vegetables. Raising vegetables produces far lower greenhouse gas emissions than raising meat, poultry, or fish – so eating vegetables over meat reduces your carbon footprint. Fall vegetable options are hearty and delicious – think squash, brussels sprouts, turnips, and carrots.
  • Give creatively. Instead of objects, you may choose to give experiences as gifts. Here are some examples:
    • Movie, concert, or sporting event tickets
    • Classes or gift certificates for services or restaurants
    • Massachusetts State Parks permit or National Parks permit
    • Donations to favorite charities
    • For kids, gift certificates to play spaces or favorite treat shops
    • For host gifts, homemade fruit baskets or centerpieces
  • Stay efficient. Put your holiday lights on a timer, or only use them when someone is home. By using lights with LED bulbs, you save not only on your carbon footprint, but on your electric bill.



  • Eat your leftovers. Maybe this one doesn’t need to be said, but if you have leftovers, eat them up! If you have too much food, send some home with guests in reusable containers that they can keep, recycle, or return. Be creative with your recipes: a turkey sandwich might be boring, but a turkey pot pie or a stuffing reinvention with sausage might be more appetizing.
  • Bring cloth bags. Whether you’re grocery shopping or gift shopping, bringing a cloth reusable bag with you is a great way to reduce plastic bag waste.
  • Find a tree that fits your needs. If you already have an artificial holiday tree, keep reusing it. If you don’t already have an artificial tree but you need one, try purchasing one from a secondhand store. When purchasing new, pay attention to whether the tree may contain materials you may not want in your home, such as PVC.

However, studies have shown that using a real holiday tree actually has a smaller environmental footprint than an artificial tree once the production of the fake tree is accounted for – so don’t feel guilty about purchasing a real tree. And when the holidays are over, dispose of your tree responsibly. Tree pickup this year will be on Wednesday January 10th and Thursday January 11th. Put your tree out on whichever day is your regular trash pickup day. Please make sure all decorations are removed. Artificial trees will not be accepted.

If you really love evergreens, consider a living evergreen that comes with the root ball attached – after the holidays, you can plant it in your yard. 

  • Save paper goods. Reuse wrapping paper, boxes, and bags from years past to save paper waste. You can also use newspaper, paper grocery bags, and other large pieces of scrap paper to wrap gifts. String and natural twine can serve as an alternative to adhesive tape. You could even wrap gifts with old sweaters or shirts for a unique look that doesn’t send more paper to the trash can.



  • Send sustainable cards. Several websites offer beautiful and customizable e-cards that you can use to stay in touch with family and friends during the holidays. If you just can’t say goodbye to paper cards, choose sustainably-sourced stationery. The same goes for party invitations – send e-invites when you can.
  • Use the good dishes. Using reusable dishes and cloth linens helps keep paper or Styrofoam out of your trash. Oven-to-table cookware can keep you from dirtying another dish or foil plate that would otherwise be thrown away.
  • Recycle what you can. Holiday meals produce plenty of drink cans and bottles. Make sure you make your recycling bins easily identifiable so that your guests can do their part to reduce your waste burden.
  • Compost. If you or a guest is able to compost food scraps, do so. You may also be able to send some scraps home with guests who have backyard chickens.

Old habits die hard, but modifying our holiday routines doesn’t have to be difficult. Small changes can help us save waste over the holiday season. Lowering waste helps us all enjoy a cleaner environment, and may even save you a couple of trash stickers.