The song says this is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most wasteful. Reo Menning, spokeswoman for the Des Moines-based Metro Waste Authority, says these final few weeks of the year always bring overflowing trash bags and garbage cans. “Americans produce about 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” Menning says. “These holidays are a time to celebrate, people get together, we’re buying more, having more meals. It just ends up being more wasteful because of it.”

While trash generation rises, recycling typically stays level during the holidays. Iowans can help get a handle on the situation by making more of an effort to recycle, starting with things like the metal tins from cookies or popcorn. “You can also recycle greeting cards and wrapping paper that do not have the foil, or the shiny metalic paper on them,” Menning says. “That’s also a hint for you when you’re buying, buy the kind of wrapping paper and cards that can be recycled. Don’t get the shiny, foil kind.”

Most of the cardboard boxes our gifts will be shipped in are recyclable, as are the boxes in which the individual items are packaged. While the goal is to increase recycling rates, Menning says some holiday items one might assume could be recycled actually have to be chucked in the trash.  “Christmas lights cannot go into your recycling bin,” Menning says. “Garland, most ornaments, paper plates, paper napkins, plastic forks and silverware, those are all things that cannot be recycled.”

Other things that should not be recycled include: aluminum foil and aluminum pans, as the aluminum is too soft to go through the system to be recycled efficiently. While the ribbons and bows from our gifts can’t be put in the recycle bin, they can be recycled — when saved and used on next year’s gifts. Menning says Americans generate about 250-million tons of trash every year and only about one-third of it is recycled.