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Once the the holidays are over and your guests have returned to their homes, you’ve unwrapped all the presents under the tree, and you’ve toasted the New Year, take a look around. When the hubbub is all said and done, there’s a lot left over to clean up. In an effort to be as kind to Mother Earth as possible, you’ll want to dispose of things properly—and sometimes that means not throwing certain items into the recycling bin.

That might sound contradictory, but trust us: There are a few surprising materials that, when thrown in with your glass bottles and metal cans, can mess up the recycling process. To help guide you through what goes where, we pulled this excerpt from Erin Rhoads’s recently released book, Waste Not Everyday: 365 Ways to Reduce, Reuse, and Reconnect. And may you never throw your wreath in the trash again. 

Shattered Cups

Broken drinking glasses shouldn’t go into a recycling bin as they are made from tempered glass, which is different from a glass jam jar. One piece of tempered glass can ruin glass recycling. Instead, wrap it in newspaper, secure it to prevent any shards from poking out, and place it in your trash bin.

Used Toothbrushes

Used plastic toothbrushes can be recycled at TerraCycle—or you can reuse them at home to assist with cleaning.

Aluminum Foil

In the U.K. alone, more than 4,000 tons of aluminum foil is discarded during Christmas festivities. If foil can’t be reused, rinse it and roll it into a ball the size of your first so it can be recycled. Or do without.

Wreaths and Trees

Grass clippings, tree branches, and weeds should be kept out of landfills, as organic matter doesn’t break down properly. Make sure they’re placed in a compost bin or taken to a drop-off point where they are accepted.

Glitter and Confetti

Glitter and some confetti are made of plastic. It can easily escape into the wider environment, where animals mistake it for food. Think about going without; otherwise look for glitter made from natural materials (such as mica or cellulose) or use a hole-punch to make confetti out of dried leaves.


Balloons are used once. When they escape into the environment, they post a serious threat to wildlife, especially birds. Look for paper decorations and bunting that can be reused over and over. Bubbles are a fun option, too. 

Waste Not Everyday (book cover)
“Waste Not Everyday: Simple Zero-Waste Inspiration 365 Days a Year,” Hardie Grant ($10)

Excerpted with permission from Waste Not Everyday by Erin Rhoads, published by Hardie Grant, December 2019.

See more sustainability tips: Does This Trending Reddit Plant Hack Really Work? People Who Install This in Their Homes Save $130+ a Year Reusable Paper Towels Might Be the Best Thing to Happen to Your Kitchen