How to Recycle Your Christmas, from the Tree to Old Gadgets

By Lou Carlozo, Green Dad columnist for dealnews

recycle your christmas treeHow would you like to give the greatest, greenest gift of all this Christmas?

For inspiration, let's flash back to the three original Christmas gifts: frankincense, gold and myrrh. Fact one: All were environmentally friendly. And fact two: They were given by three very Wise Men, who traveled a great distance on a teeny-tiny carbon footprint.

So in this time between 2010 and 2011, when Mother Earth could sure use a lift, give her one by making sure your post-Christmas cleanup is eco-friendly. I've listed some ideas and resources to make sure anything you might toss is reused, reduced or recycled.

Paper, Boxes, Bags and Bows
Nicholas M. Baily, founder and CEO of Belgrave Trust, says that living carbon-neutral this Christmas is possible if you put some thought into it. "According to the EPA, Americans toss 25% more trash than usual during the holiday season," Baily says. "Get creative and reuse paper items around your house such as old maps or the comic section of newspapers." (While you're at it, Belgrave's ThinkPaper Recycle Bin is 100% recycled itself and makes a great post-holiday gift for your eco-minded friends.)

Follow rule of thumb number one: Stash the boxes, bows and bags from this year's gifts for next year's giving. At our house, we save every bit of Christmas packaging, and it always comes in handy for birthday parties and other festive occasions. Really big boxes might not be practical to keep, but do make sure to break them all down and bundle them for easy recycling.

Then, there's rule of thumb number two: Toddlers love really big gift boxes. When she was 2, my daughter would spend more time playing with her "secret fort" than the gift that came in it. If I were smart, I would've given her the box and called it a day.

The Tree
Ah, live pine trees, the smell of verdant holiday bliss. So why do so many of us go anti-green and throw that old tree out? Major metropolitan areas from San Diego to St. Louis have abundant tree recycling options that will turn that old needle-shedder into brand new mulch. Wherever you live, your local public works department will know of environmentally-friendly options for the tree that has done its Yuletide duty.

The good news is that you got a new smartphone, gaming console and super-slick laptop. Now for the quandary: What to do with that old smartphone, gaming console and beat-up laptop? Don't even think about the trash can. If we have to remind you of all the toxic chemicals that rechargeable batteries can leak (nickel cadmium cells are the worst offenders) into landfills if you simply toss these things, then you've got your head buried in the digital sand. Not to worry: Recycling options abound. In April 2010, Target set up recycling centers at all of its 1,740 stores, and they can handle all sorts of items — from MP3 players and cell phones to those dreaded printer ink cartridges, which beg you to throw them in the trash when you know you shouldn't.

As for laptops and computers, here's an excellent idea: Those Canadian good guys at Little Geeks are constantly on the hunt for equipment of all types, as they seek to get computers into the hands of kids who need them. Your digital trash could be some tyke's holiday treasure. And you can also sell your digital junk or find a place that will recycle it for you, such as

Christmas Lights
LED technology is revolutionizing Christmas lighting to make it energy efficient. So does that mean you should throw out your old strands once a bad bulb shorts the whole chain? No way. Christmas lights can be recycled — the wiring alone often yields a wealth of reusable copper — and you can do it at places such as Home Depot.

What's more, some vendors of newfangled LED lights will do the recycling for you and offer a discount on their new products while they're at it.

Packing Peanuts and Bubbles
Behold two of the most annoying substances known to man. Bubble wrap usually causes compulsive types to pop all the blisters (there's an app for that), and just try flicking those peanuts off your hands and clothes once the static cling's got 'em. Fortunately, both have alternate uses. Bubble wrap is easy to save for future packaging, and some folks swear by it as insulation for everything from drink cups to freezing feet. As for the peanuts, local businesses will gladly take them off your hands. Start with a UPS or Mail Boxes, Etc. store. You can also call the Plastic Loose Fill Council's "Peanut Hotline" at 1-800-828-2214, or visit its website to find a local outfit that will claim unwanted packing peanuts.

Christmas Cards
Here's a novel way to recycle Christmas cards: St. Jude's Ranch in Boulder City, Nevada, wants your old holiday cards so it can turn them into new ones. The refashioned cards are then resold in packages of 10 for $10 (presumably to be re-recycled at some point). And what a great cause; St. Jude's rescues abused, abandoned and neglected children from the perils of child abuse.

Christmas Fruitcake
You'd think that by now most Americans would know that Christmas fruitcake is inedible. While studies have not confirmed it, many fruitcakes contain a variety of questionable ingredients, including rubber, artificial bacon bits, lint and mucilage.

Recycle that Christmas fruitcake as compost this holiday. While it may take a good six months to decompose, chances are it will bite the dust just in time to give your summer garden a good kick-start.

Note: Green Dad is as stumped as you when it comes to other post-Christmas detritus: cheapo ties, last-minute gift baskets from the pharmacy or Ugly Christmas Sweaters Emblazoned with Deer. That said, regifting comes to mind. Whether you retro-gift them back the giver at some future holiday soiree is up to you.

Lou Carlozo is dealnews' new Green Dad columnist. He was most recently the managing editor of and, before that, a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter — @LouCarlozo63. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Photo credit: Auntie P. via Flickr

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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