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Rocking around the recycle bin

  • December 10, 2019

Tips for making the holiday season more sustainable.  

Holiday sustainabilityThe winter holiday season is a time of excess, but with mindfulness, we can make it a time of being more sustainable. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, household waste increases by more than 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Tim Sullivan, manager in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Facilities Division, recommends finding ways to cut down on waste and increase recycling this holiday season.

“We all need to take responsibility for sustainability, especially this time of year,” Sullivan said. “Whether it is planning a more sustainable event, going digital, or finding new ways to reuse and recycle items, we have to do our part.”

Sullivan breaks down what to recycle when and ways you can be more sustainable throughout the month of December. 


This is the season of gift-giving, so many people use wrapping paper throughout the month of December. When shopping for paper, Sullivan recommends using plain, paper-based wrapping. Consider using alternatives to wrapping paper such as seasonal foliage or colorful newsprint. After the presents are open, Sullivan says, the paper can be recycled, as long as the bows, ribbons and sticky tape are removed.Gifting

“Paying attention to what you buy will help when you go to recycle the used paper,” Sullivan said. “If you attempt to recycle items that are not accepted at your recycler, it will taint the entire bin, making all of the items that you have tried to recycle, non-recyclable.”

Giving exciting experiences rather than clutter-producing toys is on-trend this holiday season and a sustainable option. Learn more here.

Non-recyclable gift wrap includes:

  • Wrapping paper coated in plastic or foil
  • Glittery or embossed elements
  • Bows, ribbons and tape, but consider reusing each year

Sustainable alternatives to giving wrapped gifts are gift cards, experiences, donating to a charity in your recipient’s name and giving handmade gifts.

Be sure to buy and use rechargeable batteries. Old electronics can be recycled at many large retailers.

Holiday cards

The most sustainable option is to send digital cards via email or an e-card, says Sullivan. When purchasing greeting cards, be sure to buy simple, paper-based cards that are recyclable. Cards with bows, ribbons, badges or staples attached are not recyclable.  

“We are in a digital age, when friends and family can easily access photos through social media and email,” Sullivan said. “This is an easy and impactful way to be more sustainable this season.”

Holiday Décor

Live Christmas trees are recyclable via curbside pickup, but check with your local municipality. If you plan to recycle the tree, be sure to remove all lights, wires, ornaments, nails, stand and tinsel. Anything that is not organic should be removed.

“There are ways that each of us can benefit from reusing our trees in unique ways,” Sullivan said.

Unique ways to reuse trees:

  • Tree Chipping — Cut the tree down into wood chips and spread the chips around a landscape. This will enrich the soil and help keep plants and green areas thriving. Chips also help planted areas hold in moisture, which reduces the need for watering in the summer and eases the seasonal strain on that valuable resource.
  • Shoreline Stabilization — Placing a tree along the shore of a lake or water way acts as an important buffer where tides and water flows can strip away land. This buffer helps prevent erosion and stabilize the ecosystem.
  • Fish Habitat Creation — Trees break down much more slowly once submerged in water. The tree can provide decades’ worth of shelter for fish populations. Fish will congregate there and thrive in those areas. Some populations would also be able to escape predation, which keeps fish abundant and, in turn, keeps lakes and water ways healthy.

“UAB is committed to being a steward of sustainability by offering fundamental ways to develop sustainability literacy, solutions and leadership,” Sullivan said. “It is up to us as individuals to learn the easy ways we can contribute to making our homes more sustainable.”