As the holiday season in upon us, we at Winters Bros. understand the joy and festivities that come with it. However, it’s crucial to remember the impact our celebrations can have on the environment. Proper recycling during the holidays is more important than ever. In collaboration with Newsday, we’ve highlighted key insights on post-Holiday deluge and shed light on the do’s and don’ts of Holiday Recycling. To ensure the success of our recycling efforts, we urge consumers to be cautious and informed. When in doubt about whether an item is recyclable, it’s better to place it in with your household waste rather than risk contaminating the recycling load. By following this “Holiday Recycling: Do’s and Don’ts” guide, together we can contribute to a cleaner and greener Long Island.

Gift wrap, ribbons and boxes, oh my! Dealing with the post-holiday deluge of trash

Will Flower is not a curmudgeon with a bah-humbug attitude to the holidays. But there’s one feature of the season that he finds less than joyous.

“Every aspect of the holiday season generates waste, from the way we buy gifts and decorate, and then the food waste is very high as well,” Flower said.

Flower is the senior vice president of Winters Bros. Waste Systems, which is bracing for the post-holiday deluge, when crews work overtime to collect the extra household trash. “A shift that’s normally eight to nine hours is more like 12 hours,” he said.

In the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the amount of waste produced in the United States increases by 25%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Based on Long Island’s trash habits, Flower believes “that may be a conservative estimate.

What to Know

  • Waste management companies are bracing for the post-holiday deluge, when crews work overtime to collect extra household trash.
  • Much of it is paper wrapping and cardboard boxes, which are highly recyclable. Other holiday packaging is not recyclable but can be reused, like bubble wrap, foam peanuts, ribbons and bows.
  • Environmental groups recommended gifts that need minimal packaging, and they warn against using plastics.

”Every day, the average New Yorker produces just over 5 pounds of garbage, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which means Long Island’s nearly 3 million residents dump roughly 2.6 million tons of unwanted stuff every year, not including construction debris.

This is not sustainable, environmentalists and waste management professionals like Flower say, and when the Brookhaven landfill stops taking ash from incinerated garbage in the next couple of years, disposing of the Island’s trash will only get more complicated and more expensive. Some say the region must rethink its trash system and significantly expand efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Nice vs. ‘naughty’ packaging

A good portion of the extra holiday pickup is paper wrapping and cardboard boxes, says Martin Bellew, commissioner of environmental control for the Town of Islip. Those materials are highly recyclable and can be remade into a range of products, from more cardboard to cellulose insulation.

Other holiday packaging and wrappings are not recyclable. “On the naughty list is bubble wrap, foam peanuts, ribbons and bows,” Flower says. “But all those things can be reused.”

Plastic waste, which is made from fossil fuels, is especially troublesome, and not just at this time of year. Many products are used just once before they’re thrown away, and only about 5% of plastic items are recycled, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The rest is dumped in landfills, burned in incinerators or ends up littering beaches and oceans. And the burden of that trash is not shared equally. The plants where plastic is manufactured, and the landfills and incinerators where it’s sent when it’s discarded, are frequently located in low-income and Black and brown communities.

There are many ways individuals can curb their waste production.

“Try to find products with minimal packaging, especially plastic packaging,” Amber Otto, owner of the Eastport General Store, suggests. Her shop features local, handmade products that aren’t wrapped in plastic, and a refill bar, where customers can use their own containers to stock up on laundry and dish detergent, hair and skin care products — skipping the plastic jugs, jars and tubes.

“You don’t need to be perfect,” Otto says. “Those little things add up, and if everybody did them, especially in the season when consumption is at its peak, it definitely would help.”

Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, based at Bennington College in Vermont, suggests the first of the three Rs is the place to start: reduce. “The most important thing we can do is stop buying so much stuff — especially so much plastic stuff.” At holiday time, she suggests, “cherish your friends and family by giving experiences,” such as tickets to the theater, movies or a ballgame, memberships to a museum or botanic garden.

The group’s website offers additional ideas for ecologically minded gifts such as vintage clothing, a share in a Community Supported Agriculture group or a magazine subscription.

When choosing gifts, we could all be “more environmentally conscious, giving things that are more durable,” Enck says.

Looking for long-range fix

But there’s only so much that conscientious consumers can do. “It goes beyond an individual problem — it’s a structural problem,” says Monique Fitzgerald, a founder of Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, established in 2020.

Long Island needs larger-scale solutions that will cut down on throwaway packaging, increase recycling rates and build local markets for recycled materials, environmental groups say. They are backing legislation that would require manufacturers to reduce their packaging and include more recycled material.

A bill introduced by former Assemb. Steve Englebright, a Democrat from Suffolk County, encountered fierce opposition from the plastic, chemical and fossil fuel industries, which objected to its mandates for recycling rates and content and its cost to businesses. The bill died in committee last year, but a similar version was introduced in June by Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Pete Harckham (D-South Salem).

It also faces opposition. Ken Pokalsky, vice president of the Business Council of New York, said in an email the council opposes its “aggressive” recycling rates and timelines and its apparent focus on “eliminating use of targeted materials” such as plastic.

The council also takes issue with its ban on toxins in packaging, such as PFAS and formaldehyde.

Cutting down on waste depends on finding “a sustainable end of life for all materials,” according to a group called Taking A Lead on Zero Waste, a consortium of advocates, elected officials and waste management professionals.

One solution it likes: Establish local manufacturers of products made from materials collected from Long Islanders’ curbside bins. “Recycling is market-driven,” says Karen Blumer, a founder of Taking A Lead on Zero Waste. “We are exploring the idea of becoming our own market, where we’re producing high-end countertops out of recycled glass, for example.”

A project like that would require a shift from Long Island’s scattered, decentralized waste systems, which environmental groups argue is inefficient and not sustainable.

“We need a comprehensive, regional zero waste plan,” Fitzgerald says. “And we need to start changing the culture from consuming so many ‘disposable’ things to a society that uses sustainable products that are produced to last.”


2.6 million ton – Garbage produced on Long Island annually

5 pounds – Garbage each New Yorker throws out

5% – Portions of plastic that gets recycled.

Sources: Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Department of Energy


As published in Newsday, December 22, 2023