More joy, less waste: Tips for the holidays in Chicago

Here at Recycle by City, it’s our goal to send peace, love and joy — and a lot less waste to the landfill — this holiday season. And because you’re reading this, we’re guessing it’s your goal, too.

So while U.S. households produce 23% more waste during the holidays, the good news is there are a lot of simple ways to reduce waste, too.

Pick a few tips from our list below that work with your holiday celebrations. Add little by little over time and soon you’ll experience more joy and less waste year-round.

Gift-giving… and receiving

Before buying a gift for someone (or yourself), ask two questions:

  • Does this person really need this?

  • What happens when they’re done with it?

If a gift produces waste and can’t be reused or recycled, reconsider. The first step of reducing waste is limiting what we bring into our home — or send into someone else’s.

Last minute, low-waste gift ideas: Select items that are local, consumable, have minimal (and recyclable) packaging and/or are made to last. Think gift certificates to local restaurants, cooking classes, a spa or massage, tickets to the movies or museum memberships, subscriptions to online magazines or newspapers.

Opt for rechargeable batteries: Rechargeable batteries have come a long, long way since they hit the market in the '90s. They now last up to 5 years, depending on brand and use. While they cost more upfront, they last longer than alkaline batteries and many brands are able to hold a charge in storage for up to one year. That makes them better for the environment and less expensive over time.

Email receipt? Yes, please!: Many receipts have a BPA chemical coating and are not recyclable. They're also made from... trees.  So when a clerk asks if you’d like an emailed receipt, don't be shy about saying yes! 

Trade in (or recycle) your old electronics: Getting a new phone or gaming console? Your old one has valuable materials inside. If your gadgets are still working, you may be able to trade them in and earn store credit. Apple, Dell, and Best Buy have strong trade-in programs that allow you to calculate the trade-in value of your gear online. For older, non-working electronics, head to one of the city’s drop-off events before the end of the year or take them to the City’s Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling facility on Goose Island. Heads up: Hours are limited and be sure to check the list of accepted items before you go. 

Recycle a box, reduce pollution. Did you know recycling corrugated cardboard into new products cuts the pollution generated by half? Pretty cool. Don’t forget to take out the packing materials before you flatten the boxes and put them in your Blue Cart. If you’re able to take off the tape, great. If not, don’t worry, it can be removed during the recycling process.

Garbage and recycling will not be picked up on December 26 and January 2. Check your collection schedule to find out if your service will be affected.

Donate your packing materials: If you can’t reuse your packing materials EcoShip can. EcoShip is a Chicago nonprofit that collects packing materials in reusable condition and gives them to individuals and small businesses, including paper shred and soft plastic bags which are big no-nos for our Blue Carts. EcoShip has 10 collection points across the city and Chicago-land area. Be sure to check their list of accepted items before dropping off.

What about excess plastic bags? Plastic bags that aren’t reusable can be dropped off at local retailers that provide access to free recycling programs, such as Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Walgreens, Mariano’s and Jewel. Look for plastic bag recycling bins located near the front doors.

Is that holiday card recyclable? Often not. That's the "unglitzy" truth about greeting cards. Cards printed on photo paper or embellished with foil or glitter are beautiful - and ripe for reuse - but they don’t go in your Blue Cart.  Plain cards and wrapping paper can be recycled, just nothing glitzy. 

 Think reusable wrapping: Save resources (and money) and give your gifts a personal touch by reusing gift bags, wrapping with scarves or other fabrics, and using old newspapers, maps, calendars or paper bags and add a design yourself. 

Don’t bag your recyclables: You probably know that by now, but we’re still seeing a bunch of plastic bags in the recycling, so we’re going to keep harping on it. Plastic bags aren’t recyclable in the blue cart and paper bags don’t allow haulers to see if other non-recyclable materials are present. All items should be placed loosely in your Blue Cart without a bag. 

Recycle your (naked) tree: If you buy a live one, forgo the flocking and plan to "recycle" your tree by dropping it off at one of 26 Chicago Park District locations between January 7th and 21st during regular park hours. Be sure to remove all decorations beforehand. (Trees are turned into mulch, which is available to the public.)

Taking the conversation into the kitchen

Did you know food waste is the most common material sent to landfills in the U.S. and is a major producer of greenhouse gasses? Adopting a new habit or two in the kitchen will result in a big impact. 

Bring your own produce bags and containers: Just because a grocery store provides a plastic bag or container for your produce doesn’t mean you have to use it. Purchasing loose produce and bulk items with your own bags or containers allows you to buy only what you need, reduces waste and saves you money. Same goes for the meat counter.

Think leftovers! The last thing anyone wants to do is run out of food, but oftentimes we end up with too much.  One solution is to ask guests to bring a container for leftovers or try the Guest-imator dinner party calculator so you can prepare just the right amount. 

Rinse, scrape or whatever it takes to clean your recyclables: Mmmmm, pie! Yes, that pie tin is recyclable but be sure to clean off the food residue of all food containers before recycling. Important to note: food-stained paper and cardboard are not recyclable.

Start composting!: You don’t need a bin in your backyard to compost. Chicago residents can subscribe to shared neighborhood bins or door-to-door services that start around $10 per month. Not only will you keep food out of the landfill, your garbage will no longer stink (trust us on that one).

Do dishes: Tossing everything — paper plates, utensils, cups and napkins — into the garbage at the end of a meal is certainly tantalizing. But besides being wasteful, continually buying disposable tableware gets to be expensive. Use washable plates and silverware instead. When guests offer to help — accept it! They’ll be glad to move the conversation into the kitchen and lend a hand.

That probably seems like a lot. But you don’t have to incorporate everything. Picking just a few new behaviors on this list can have a real impact on the amount of waste you produce this holiday season, and increases the chances they turn into life long habits.

Interested in learning more about reducing waste in your home? Check out our article Zero Waste 101: A beginner's guide.



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