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Trash or recycle? What to do with holiday waste

Best Christmas Wrapping Paper 2020
Posted at 8:58 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 21:58:11-05

MILWAUKEE — As you unwrap and open your holiday gifts this week, consider where all that waste is going to go. The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works has guidance on what goes into the trash bin and what can be recycled.


  • Cardboard Boxes: After you’re done reusing them to wrap gifts, cardboard boxes can be recycled curbside, but please empty and flatten them first. Boxes that are not emptied and broken down are difficult to collect and can cause extra trips to the recycling facility when they fill up collection trucks too quickly.
  • Styrofoam: Consider reusing Styrofoam. Otherwise it should be placed in your garbage cart.
  • Plastic bags and film: Plastic bags and film should never be placed in your recycling cart as they tangle in recycling equipment and contaminate accepted curbside recyclables. However, you can return them to store drop offs for source separated recycling.


  • Matte wrapping paper: Wrapping paper that doesn’t contain any foil or glitter can be recycled curbside. If it’s shiny, consider reusing next year or place it in the garbage.
  • Newspaper: An alternative to traditional wrapping paper and accepted in your curbside recycling.
  • Tissue paper: Made from a low-grade paper, tissue paper is not accepted for curbside recycling. Consider folding up and storing for use next year.
  • Ribbons and bows: These items are not recyclable and can tangle in recycling system equipment. Consider reusing or donating.


  • Trees: Artificial trees can be donated for someone to use next year or placed in your garbage cart. They should never be placed in your recycling cart. Live trees can be taken to a city Drop Off Center where it will be mulched, or you can place it at your regular garbage collection point for pick-up by DPW crews. Trees picked up by crews will be land-filled. Trees must be bare, with all decorations and lights removed.
  • Lights: Strings of lights should never be placed in your recycling cart. Consider donating lights that are in working condition or recycle them through HolidayLEDs or drop them off at the Milwaukee County Zoo’s U.S. Bank Gathering Place during their Wild Lights event going on through January 9th.

It's better to ask questions than sort waste incorrectly. Contact the Department of Public Works if you aren't certain what to do with waste.

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