12 Life Hacks to Recycle the Holidays

End-of-the-year holidays, celebrations and special occasions usually generate more trash and waste than other times of the year. These tips and tricks will help you recycle more and create a lot less trash.

energy holiday lights

Use Energy-Saving Holiday Lights

Decorate your house with LED lights that use 90 percent less energy than conventional holiday lights, and save your family up to $50 on your energy bills during the holiday season!

Recycle Old Holiday Lights

Until January 15, the Solid Waste District collects broken, burned out or tangled strings of holiday lights for recycling. Drop unwanted light strings, power cords and power strips in a marked box in our lobby at 4750 East 131 Street in Garfield Heights. Hours are Monday-Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm. Some city service departments also collect lights from residents as a part of this program. Check with your community.
Sorry, we cannot accept pre-lit trees or garland. Lights must be removed from the item for proper recycling.
Other resources for recycling holiday lights:
  • HolidayLEDS offers free a light recycling program. You can ship lights to the company for recycling from October 1-February 28 (visit website).
  • Christmas Light Source accepts holiday lights all year-round. Proceeds from this recycling program benefit the Marine Toys for Tots program.
  • Some retailers like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart collect lights for a few weeks during the winter holidays. Check with your local store.

Recycle Christmas Trees

Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. While your tree won't fit in the recycling bin with your newspapers and bottles, you can still recycle your tree. Many cities offer programs to turn your tree to mulch or wood chips. Call your city service department or trash hauler for more information or find details for your community.

Reuse Holiday Cards

When the holidays are over, send your cards to St. Jude's Ranch, a nonprofit home for youth that collects old holiday cards for reuse. Either cut off the backs of the cards or leave them intact. Children at St. Jude's earn money by creating new holiday cards from old cards. 
You can also include your holiday cards in with your city’s curbside mixed paper recycling program. Do not include foil, ribbon, or photo cards with the mixed paper.

Recycle Gift Wrap & Gift Boxes

Don’t forget to have your recycling container or craft paper bag handy while everyone is opening gifts! 

Wrapping paper, holiday cards and boxes that are 100 percent paper can be recycled. Recycle the cards and wrappings with your regular curbside mixed paper collection or take it to a local mixed paper drop-off. Please do not include foil, plastic coating, ribbon, bows and glitter in the recycle bins.

Re-gift Unwanted Items

Donate unwanted clothes, toys, and other unwanted items to non-profit organizations that accept donations. We publish a book called Pass It On: A Resource-Full Guide to Donating Usable Stuff that lists over 125 local organizations that accept donations year-round. Use our What Do I Do With? search engine to see where to donate or order a copy of the book.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag!)

During the nation’s busiest shopping season, bring your own shopping bags. Paper, plastic and cloth are all good; the latter two can be folded easily into purses and pockets. Or, consolidate your purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag at each store on your shopping rounds.

Recycle Cell Phones & Electronics

Getting a new cell phone this year? Each year, 130 million cell phones are thrown out -- about 65,000 tons! Drop off your old phone at any AT&T, Best Buy, Staples, Verizon, or other retail store that offers recycling services in store. 
Recycling phones prevents hazardous elements like mercury, cadmium and lead from ending up in our landfills.
Best Buy and Staples stores accept most electronics devices for recycling; you can drop off items in store for free. Other retailers also offer free electronics recycling programs throughout the year.

See more about recycling electronics.
fryer oil

Don’t Dump That Fryer Oil

Over two million folks across the country deep-fry their turkey every Thanksgiving. With three to five gallons of used oil on your hands, disposing of it isn't as easy as just putting it in the garbage. 
If your turkey fryer still has oil in it from the last holiday meal, drain it out and take it to your community's next Household Hazardous Waste collection day. We're happy to accept and recycle fryer oil from Cuyahoga County households.
Additionally, restaurants and bars might be willing to take your fryer oil and add it in to their regular fryer oil collection. Locally, fryer oil is converted to biodiesel by Full Circle Fuels in Oberlin, Ohio.

Recycle & Reuse Styrofoam

Clean Styrofoam #6 EPS (formed packing material) can be recycled at Extreme Green Recycling at 1321 Lloyd Road in Wickliffe. The material is densified into Styrofoam bricks and sold to manufacturers to be made into insulation, picture frames or crown molding. They also make Styrofoam beads that are sold to a local stuffed toy manufacturer.
The Solid Waste District accepts white, formed blocks of Styrofoam (no Styrofoam sheeting, peanuts, colored foam, food trays or egg cartons) at our facility at 4750 East 131 St. in Garfield Heights. A marked collection bin is located in the lobby; hours are Monday-Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm.

Some city service departments also offer a Styrofoam drop-off for residents, including:
  • Beachwood
  • Cleveland Heights
  • Lakewood
  • Shaker Heights
Food grade Styrofoam "clamshell" containers, cups, and trays cannot be recycled here in Northeast Ohio.
Styrofoam peanuts from packaging can be taken to Northcoast Recycling, 1305 Lloyd Road in Wickliffe. For more information, call 440.943.6968. Packing peanuts can also be donated to a store that ship packages like the UPS stores. Or reuse it as your own packing material.
Drop off extra packing peanuts at local private mailing centers. Call the Plastic Loose Fill Council's Peanut Hotline at 1.800.828.2214 for the names of local businesses that reuse them. Stores often offer discounts for returning packing materials like cartons and boxes.

Recycle Batteries

Batteries that are rechargeable and/or contain heavy metals should be recycled. This includes lithium, lithium ion, nickel metal hydride, zinc air, and lead acid batteries. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) provides recycling drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries at area retail stores. For a complete list call 1.800.8BATTERY or visit the website.
Single-use alkaline batteries are not rechargeable. Once the battery power is used up, it can be safely disposed of with normal household waste. These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste. Alkaline batteries are composed primarily of common metals -- steel, zinc and manganese -- and do not pose a health or environmental risk during normal use or disposal. Cost-effective and environmentally safe recycling processes are not yet universally available for alkaline batteries.

Donate Food

Food and holiday celebrations go together like jingle and bells. Rather than throwing the excess food away, donate leftovers to a local food pantry or organization that feeds the needy.

The Cleveland Foodbank accepts food products from all types of donors including caterers and commercial entities. See their guidelines for making a food and fund drives donation or a food industry donation to the Cleveland Foodbank.

Looking for other recycling options? Check our list for recycling options in Cuyahoga County.


Subscribe to our newsletter