By Candice Allouch
As presents begin to pile up over the holidays, so does cardboard and plastic packaging. This year in particular, when online shopping is essential to staying healthy, you may find yourself bursting at the seams with discarded packaging material.
Fear not! Many of these boxes and bags can be recycled. Here's how you can make sure your gifts make both people and the planet happy.
How do I recycle packaging from Amazon and other retailers?
Retailers use several different packaging materials and each of these is recycled slightly differently.
Paper-padded mailers and brown packing paper, for example, can be recycled like cardboard boxes. Bubble-lined plastic envelopes are accepted by most curbside recycling programs where plastic film is also accepted.
Traditional cardboard boxes can be put in your regular recycling bin, just make sure to remove the tape and flatten boxes before putting them in.
For now, Amazon gift bags are made of non-recycleable material, but they can be reused. If you’re a big Amazon shopper, the company explains the appropriate disposal of their materials on their Second Chance webpage.
Your local solid waste authority’s website also has more specific information on how your neighborhood recycles.
I have so much gift-wrapping and tissue paper – what do I do with it?
Gift-wrapping paper is, unfortunately, not always made of paper. Many of these products are mixed with foil or film and make it very difficult to recycle. Some counties will accept non-paper gift wrapping, but it’s best to check with your county waste department to make sure before chucking these items in the bin. Most places do not accept these materials.
Miami-Dade County will accept paper-based gift wrap tubes and non-foil gift-wrapping paper. Of course, the best option is to shop for paper gift-wrapping materials so that these can easily be recycled once the holidays are over.
When it comes to gift tissue paper, these materials are generally made with very low-grade paper, making them non-recyclable for most communities. However, as long as the tissue paper doesn’t have tape or glitter on it, it can be composted! Add the tissue paper to your composting bin, and it can soak up any liquids which even keeps the bin from smelling.
How do I dispose of my Christmas tree and decorations?
If you have a natural tree, it is likely that your county’s solid waste department can pick up your tree with your curbside recycling collection program. Several counties have special days for when large items, like a Christmas tree, can be picked up. Check with your county to make sure you get the details.
If you don’t want to wait for curbside pickup, Miami-Dade County’s solid waste department hosts a free Christmas Tree Recycling program. Residents can drop off decoration-free trees starting the day after Christmas at a designated location. Trees are repurposed as mulch, which is also made available for residents to take home.
When it comes to Christmas tree decorations, many of the traditional ornaments and tinsel used on our trees cannot be recycled. Try keeping these items and reusing them for future holidays. You can also switch to paper-based decorations or up-cycle old decorations to make crafts and art.
Staying clear of plastic products whenever possible and recycling the rest of your appropriate waste is an easy way to protect our planet.
For more details on recycling, check out these tips from Melinda Paduani, a Ph.D. student in the FIU Institute of Environment’s CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment.