Recycling Guy here with another edition of how to handle holiday stuff to avoid recycling contamination. 


Here is an overview of how to discard the most common holiday waste. See below for more background. As always, if you have any questions about whether an item is recyclable or not, refer to the Recyclopedia.


Seems like delivery trucks are stopping every other house. Boxes should be broken down when possible – you can put many flat boxes into one intact box – but there should be nothing else in there – no straps, styrofoam, plastic bags or anything else.

Most plastic bags, bubble wrap, “air pillows” and similar film plastic can be brought to your supermarket and recycled with plastic shopping bags. The rule of thumb is to use your thumb – if your thumb will stretch the plastic before it breaks then it is “film plastic” and can be recycled at the supermarket with bags there, just make sure the bags are empty, no tape, no paper, etc.

Shipping bags are also film plastic that can be recycled at the supermarkets but NOT curbside. Remove receipts and everything else from inside the bag and use a pair of scissors to cut off any labels/stickers. Sometimes this means cutting off an entire side of the bag. That’s fine. Stickers, labels and other debris are contamination, so they go in the trash.

Learn more about:

Wrapping paper and gift bags

These are NOT recyclable curbside in Massachusetts!

If you purchased something labeled “gift paper” or “wrapping paper,” or if you bought a “gift bag,” it is not recyclable. If you received a gift in wrapping paper, enjoy it, but please put the wrapping paper in the trash.

REMEMBER: Just because something says “Recyclable” on it doesn’t mean it is accepted as recycling in MA. “Wish Cycling” your wrapping paper just causes problems – please don’t do it.

There are many other options, from the gazillion paper shopping bags we’ve all been getting to newspapers to fancy scarves, bright and happy textiles that can be reused, to wrapping in gift shirts and much more.

Given how long wrapping paper is admired by most gift recipients vs. how long the effects of producing, shipping and disposing of the paper stay with us, it is time to reconsider how we decorate our gifts.

Holiday Cards

Cards are NOT recyclable if they have:

  • Photos (on photo paper)
  • Shiny ink
  • Shiny surface
  • Super slick surface
  • Not easily tearable
  • Any bling or non-paper doodads

If you question whether any/all are recyclable, just throw them out, following the mantra “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper is the last hurrah of paper products. The fibers have been through enough processes that the fibers are now too short to hold together well and form anything else. That means that it is NOT recyclable.


Cheap, inexpensive items that break easily and bring only moments of joy cause harm to the environment through their production, transportation, and finally by being sent to the incinerator or landfill. Please consider better quality gifts that last a long time, experiences, or a gift certificate to a store/business that offers these things.


A great price for a new TV you don’t need isn’t a good deal, and definitely not good for the environment. Electronics aren’t without environmental costs. They contain heavy metals, their production and shipping use lots of fuel, and so on.

Regardless, your old electronics can be recycled at the Arlington Reuse & Recycling Center, Staples, Best Buy and other locations.

 Additional Resources:

Jeremy Marin is also known as ‘The Recycling Guy’. Follow him on Facebook

Browse Categories

Join our email list

You May Also Like

Project Zero: Student-run low-waste event services

Project Zero: Student-run low-waste event services

Project Zero, a student-run volunteer group, offers low-waste event services for Town events and sports banquets by providing durable, reusable tableware (dishes, utensils, cups), washable tablecloths, and set-up and clean-up support.