Holiday Clean Up, Green Up: How to Avoid Dumping the Decorations

Jan 02 2020

Share on Social Media

The holidays have come and gone and now it’s time to put away the decorations. Don’t let your decorating go to waste! Here are some tips for cleaning up post-holiday.

Live Christmas Treeschristmas tree curb holiday clean up

Many waste haulers offer free curbside tree pick up the week or two after New Years. Some programs chip or compost the trees but not all do. Check with your garbage hauler to see what they do with the trees they pick up where you live.

It’s important to remove all decorations and trimming from the tree (including tinsel, ornaments, lights etc) before placing it at the curb. Trees should be loose and removed from any plastic bag, netting, or wrap (the bag is not recyclable in your curbside bin, either). 

Flocked trees usually not accepted. If your hauler doesn’t recycle trees, you can drop off undecorated trees at Midwest Compost, LLC  for $10 apiece at their Elgin facility, M-F 7am-3:30pm.

If you have a landscape maintenance company, they may be willing to take and chip your tree. No harm asking! Or consider pooling your money with your neighbors and renting a wood chipper.

Want to give your tree another life?
holiday clean up christmas tree bird sanctuary

Re-decorate your tree outside with treats for the birds.

You can also get creative: Put your tree out back as a bird habitat. Secure it by wiring it to a post or deck; nailing it to a flat wooden base and anchoring it with a rope and three stakes; or supporting the trunk in a 5 gallon bucket filled with damp sand. Set a bird feeder near it or string it with peanut buttered-pine cones, strings of popcorn or peanuts, dried fruit or suet.

Check out some other creative reuse ideas here.

Trees should not be burned in the fireplace – they can contribute to creosote build-up and be a hazard.

Live Wreaths & Garland

Real wreaths and garland are not compostable due to all the wire wrapping. Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn accepts wreaths and garland for their animals. Remove any plastic or ribbon before donating. This is a very popular option, so please, call before driving over. 

Option two is to take apart your wreath or garland. The boughs can be composted in your yard or you can set them aside until spring when yard waste service returns. The wires can be recycled at a scrap metal recycling facility.

The third option is to extend the useful life of your wreath or garland by reusing outdoors, as mentioned above for Christmas trees. Make sure to remove any plastic baubles before you do so they don’t become litter.

Gift Wrapholiday clean up

If you are still exchanging gifts for the holidays or have a bag full of torn up wrapping paper from the big day, here’s some basic
things to know before recycling:

  • A lot of wrapping paper is fully recyclable, EXCEPTIONS: metallic paper or paper with sparkles is not recyclable. One test suggests crushing the paper into a ball, if it stays bunched up, then it’s most likely recyclable. If it doesn’t then odds are it’s lined with plastic and therefore non-recyclable.
  • Remove all bows, ribbons, pine cones and other baubles – they are not recyclable
  • Shredded paper is not recyclable in your home bin
  • Save gift bags for reuse! If recycling, remove any non-paper handles from the bag or consider donating like-new bags to a thrift store
  • Remove electronic components from any singing holiday cards and recycle them at an e-waste collection

Holiday Lightsholiday-light-recycling-symbol

Don’t forget, dozens of locations in DuPage County collect holiday lights for recycling – so don’t rush to dump them! Check here for a listing of towns.

Christmas Cards

holiday clean up

Upcycled Christmas card gift tags.

Plain paper cards are fully recyclable but foil-lined envelopes and cards and singing cards are not. Consider hanging onto old Christmas cards to make gift tags for next year.

Cooking Oil

The holidays are a busy time of year for cooking so you may find yourself with some used vegetable oil lying around. Don’t dump it – recycle it at one of ten DuPage County locations. They turn the vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel.

One Final Tip…

Stay organized and put items away with care! The more you can reuse a decoration, the smaller it’s environmental footprint.  One study cited by the New York Times found that fake trees had to be reused for 20 years to mitigate their environmental impact. So make sure to pack that decor away with care each year! It’ll be easier to keep track of what you have – and avoid re-purchasing next year – if you properly organize and pack decorations as you put them away. There are tons of ideas online if you need inspiration.

Happy New Year!


University of Illinois Extension Reusing and Recycling Christmas Greenery

Are You Ready To Do Your Part?

Volunteer Donate