Recycling during the Holidays—Lots of Options

by George Stubbs

It’s that time of year again, when our hyper-consumerism shifts into overdrive. The “stuff” piles up—food, gifts (wanted and unwanted), and of  course those mountains of wrapping paper.

Fortunately, there are options for dealing with all this stuff responsibly, rather than simply throwing it away. Many thanks to “This Green Life” blogger Sheryl Eisenberg of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for many of the following tips.

Food: We treat ourselves during the holidays to dishes and snacks that we might otherwise avoid the rest of the year, perhaps for health reasons, and the food certainly does accumulate. We can exercise better meal and portion planning, but we don’t always know how much food our relatives or the guests at our holiday parties might consume, and we generously provide more than enough. Consider donating leftover food to a local food bank, such as the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry. The organization Feeding America can help you find a local food bank.

Even in the winter, you can compost vegetable and fruit scraps. The material doesn’t break down as fast as it will when the temperature warms up, but you can still get some heat going. Save a bag or two of your leaves to provide cover—and essential carbon—when you’ve accumulated a good layer of nitrogen-rich food scrap.

Electronics: We all want the latest “thing” when it comes to desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, so the lifespan of these items is short. But as Ms. Eisenberg writes, “don’t underestimate the value of your old computer when you get a shiny new replacement for the holidays. That ‘clunker’ was worth something the day before—and still is.” Perhaps you know someone who would benefit from having a computer that isn’t the latest and greatest but still has significant utility.

Recycling is certainly an option. You can drop off any make of laptop, as well as most computer accessories, at a Dell Reconnect location. Through a partnership with Goodwill, Dell Reconnect uses proceeds from the resale of systems, parts, and recovered materials to fund Goodwill’s mission. Also, if you have an Apple product, you can bring it back to Apple. If the machine—Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, or eligible smartphone—has monetary value, Apple will give you a gift card reflecting that value. Otherwise, Apple promises to recycle submitted items responsibly.

The City of Melrose accepts electronic items for recycling. Just drop them off at the DPW Yard on Tremont Street during the week. Special Saturday events, during which computers and other electronics are also accepted, will start up again in March.

Last year’s fashions: Many of us will receive new clothes for Christmas, and we’ll need to make room for them in our closets. You can donate any old items that you won’t be wearing anymore to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, Big Brother Big Sister, and other organizations. You can also resell old clothing at a local thrift shop. And if you have adequate storage in your home, consider saving those old clothing items for Melrose’s annual Swap Day, which takes place in September.

Toys: We’ve all seen it—your child receives a new toy and leaves old ones untouched. Or simply outgrows them. Or perhaps even the new toy loses its luster after a week. Like old clothing, toys and sports equipment are accepted for Swap Day. Crayons can be recycled, but there are few options for most other toys, as they are often made with toxic materials. Also consider renting rather than buying toys, from organizations like Sparkbox Toys.

Christmas trees: Artificial trees can obviously be put away for reuse next year. If you prefer a real tree—the Melrose High School Band sells them every year as a fund-raiser—simply place them on the curb once the holiday season is over for trash pickup. Trees are collected during the first two weeks of January. Or you can bring them to Mt. Hood. DPW advises that you remove the stand and all plastic bags, tinsel, twine, lights, ornaments, etc. Trees in plastic bags cannot be collected.

Wrapping paper and holiday cards: If you unwrap gifts carefully, the paper can be trimmed, saved, and reused next year. Alternatively, you can recycle your wrapping paper with other mixed paper. To reduce the generation of waste wrapping paper, consider buying reusable bags to present certain gifts. They’ll double as additional gifts and will help the people who receive them shop more sustainably year-round. You can purchase reusable bags from companies like ChicoBag. Holiday cards can also be recycled with mixed paper products; just pull off any non-paper materials that might be attached.

Have a safe, green, and happy holiday season!