The holidays inspire us to treat one another with greater kindness. They also present us with an opportunity to treat the environment a little better. The EPA estimates that the average family throws out 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at any other time of the year.

So, how many of the decorations and other items that brighten up our holidays are recyclable? We’ve got the answers below, plus tips to help you make sure you’re recycling each item right.

Can You Recycle Wrapping Paper?

Wrapped Christmas Presents

Depending on where you live, you can recycle most types of wrapping paper. The deciding factor is what it’s made of. In cities that accept it, wrapping paper is recyclable as long as it is not metallic (or include any metallic decorations) and doesn’t have any glitter on it.

Tips for Recycling Wrapping Paper

  • Check with your recycling service to make sure they accept wrapping paper.
  • Make sure no metallic or glittery paper makes it into your recycling bin. These elements can’t be recycled into new paper.
  • Don’t recycle tissue paper—the fibers are usually too short to make new paper.
  • If you compost, add used tissue paper to your compost pile instead.
  • Think about investing in reusable wrapping paper, such as Lilywrap.
  • Make an effort to use less wrapping paper whenever possible. Instead, try wrapping presents in:
    • Fabric scraps
    • Old pillow cases
    • Magazine or newspaper pages
    • Paper shopping bags

Can You Recycle Christmas Ornaments?

Christmas Ornaments Hanging on a Tree

Unfortunately, you cannot recycle most Christmas ornaments. This is because nearly all are made of mixed materials that recycling facilities cannot easily separate.

Even ornaments made from a single material, such as wood or fired clay, shouldn’t go in your recycling bin. Those materials are usually treated with chemicals that will contaminate the load. Paper ornaments are the only exception to this rule.

Tips for Recycling Old Christmas Ornaments

  • Do not place any ornaments in your recycling bin unless they’re made solely of paper.
  • Homemade paper ornaments can go in your recycling bin as long as there’s no glitter and you remove any non-paper elements, such as beads or macaroni.
  • Find ways to reuse the ornaments you can’t recycle:
    • Reuse broken glass bulbs as mosaic pieces for craft projects.
    • Donate ornaments in good condition to local thrift shops.
    • Sell any big-ticket decorations online or at a consignment shop.
    • Offer ornaments in good condition to local shelters or other charities that might appreciate the extra holiday cheer.

Can You Recycle Christmas Lights?

Christmas Lights on a Tree

Good news! There are plenty of options for recycling Christmas lights. While they should not be put in your curbside recycling bin, Christmas lights can be dropped off at or mailed to many different organizations who will keep them out of the landfill.

Tips for Recycling Christmas Lights

  • Check if your local Home Depot or Lowe’s collects Christmas lights for recycling.
  • Check for local scrap metal companies that take old Christmas lights. Many scrap dealers will remove the valuable copper wire and recycle the rest.
  • If you can’t find a local recycler, mail your lights to one of these retailers:

Both companies accept lights year-round and will give you a discount you can use toward new lights or other holiday items.

Can You Recycle Holiday Cards?

Pile of Holiday Cards

Holiday cards made solely of paper or cardstock can go right into your curbside recycling bin with all your other paper products. This includes shiny paper and photo cards. However, cards that include non-paper elements take a little more work to recycle.

Tips for Recycling Holiday Cards

  • Throw cards covered with glitter or foil in the trash. Unfortunately, they can’t be recycled.
  • If only sections of a card contain glitter or foil, the rest of the card can be recycled once they’re removed.
  • Remove any ribbon, metal or plastic charms or other non-paper decorations before recycling your holiday cards.
  • Remove the electronic components from cards that play music before recycling them.
  • If your city has an e-waste program, you can recycle the electronic components as well.
  • Don’t forget to recycle envelopes too! No foil-lined envelopes, though.

Can You Recycle an Artificial Christmas Tree?

An Artificial Christmas Tree with Ornaments

Unfortunately, artificial trees aren’t accepted for curbside recycling. But that doesn’t mean yours is destined to end up in the landfill. Check out our tips for getting rid of both real and artificial Christmas trees to find plenty of options for giving yours new life.

Dealing with other holiday clutter? These tips will help you clean up. For more tips on living sustainably, check out the Green Living section of our blog.