Less Waste, More Joy: How Richmonders Can Reduce Waste and Increase Recycling Rates Over the Holidays

December 14, 2023 | Published by Elizabeth Hall

Elizabeth Hall represents the City of Richmond on the CVWMA Board of Directors. This article was part of a series that appeared on RVAHub. 

There’s more of everything over the holidays – more parties, more lights, more gifting, more time off school and work. But, the holidays also produce more of something else: trash … much more trash.  Did you know that our household waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?

There’s more of everything over the holidays – more parties, more lights, more gifting, more time off school and work. But, the holidays also produce more of something else: trash … much more trash.  Did you know that our household waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?

To help us combat that curve, I’m offering you this holiday-focused installment filled with information and resources from the staff and volunteers at Central Virginia Waste Management Authority (CVWMA) and Richmond’s Clean City Commission. Let’s investigate some of our contemporary holiday traditions to find ways we can reduce dangerous waste, be better recyclers, and support our local community.


Let’s start with those higher-end gifts. Many of us will use the holidays as a great excuse to upgrade or purchase new electronics for ourselves and others. Since you can’t put any old electronic items in your household trash or recycling, it’s critical to formulate your electronics recycling plan for those digital upgrades. If you’re like me, you probably already have a stash of old phones and broken tablets cluttering your drawers and closets.

Good thing that immediately after the holidays, Richmond City hosts its annual Bring One For The Chipper event on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. In addition to taking care of your (now dead) Christmas tree, you can also drop off your unwanted electronics for recycling. Richmonders can manage most of their holiday clean up during this always popular event held on the corner of Arthur Ashe Boulevard & Robin Hood Road from 10 am to 2 pm.

If you can’t make it to the city’s January event, CVWMA also provides services via Securis at e-recycling events in Richmond and the surrounding localities. The company holds an electronics recycling drop-off event on the first Saturday of every month in Henrico. Many items are free to recycle, while others, such as computers and TVs, cost between $5 and $35 per item.

Best Buy stores accept up to three items per household per day. Most electronics can be dropped off at the customer service desk FREE of charge, no matter where the item was purchased.

No matter which option you choose, the important thing is that you get those electronics in the hands of a recycler. Much of the materials inside of those old electronics need to be reused and repurposed to help curb metal mining and support the production of new goods.


The dangers:

Batteries are a hotter issue. The lithium-ion batteries found in many electronics and household items cannot be recycled or thrown in the trash. They pose a serious fire risk and, when placed into regular waste disposal systems, can rub up against other items or get wet, which makes them prone to explosion. According to The Recycling Partnership, “nearly 40% of waste and recycling facilities have had fires annually due to unsuccessful attempts to recycle batteries and small electronics in curbside recycling.”

During a recent facilities tour, TFC Recycling chief operating officer Matt Terrell shared horror stories about fires at the company’s materials recycling facility (MRF) in Chesapeake, which has had to shut down several times in recent years. Fires from lithium-ion batteries are extremely hot and difficult to control once started. During a recent event, a battery from a self-propelling kid car got wet and started a fire that prompted the entire facility to close for several days. Your MRF and landfill operators do not want these potentially dangerous and destructive batteries ending up in their facilities.

So, if you do plan on bringing these materials into your home this holiday, what’s your plan for getting them out? Make a list of your household items with these batteries and map a plan for proper disposal and recycling.

Items with batteries that need proper disposal:

  • Electric toothbrushes
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • Tablets & laptops
  • Chargers & cables
  • Smartwatches
  • Toys that produce sound or lights
  • Remote-controlled cars and planes
  • Handheld games
  • Power tools
  • Lawn equipment

Disposal options:

No batteries of any type can be put into your residential recycling can.  But you should still find other ways to recycle them!  That’s because many batteries contain what are known as “critical materials” – like cobalt, lithium, and graphite. The Environmental Protection Agency says these “raw materials … are economically and strategically important to the United States and have a high supply risk potential and for which there are no easy substitutes. Consequently, every effort should be made to recycle and recover these materials to ensure they will be available for generations to come.” (source: Used Household Batteries | US EPA)


Alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries – these are your traditional 9-volt, AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – are the ONLY types of batteries that can be safely put in your regular household trash. For all other types of batteries, you must find a different disposal method. Rechargeable batteries can be recycled at most big box stores, like Lowes, Home Depot, and Staples, by checking  Call2Recycle to find hours and addresses. Batteries Plus also accepts batteries (and light bulbs – plus!) at locations in Midlothian and the West End.

The City of Richmond accepts batteries along with other specialty recycling items at the East Richmond Road Convenience Center at 3800 E. Richmond Road, open every weekday and on Saturdays.

Gift Giving

CVWMA’s Green Holiday Guide offers a bunch of ways you can green your approach to holiday cards, including St. Jude’s recycled card program, in which teens work to convert used holiday cards to new cards for resale.

Reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift bags when you can. The brown paper stuffing included in some package deliveries makes for a great wrapping paper alternative. You can paint, design, and decorate the paper yourself with hand-done notes and drawings – adding a personal touch that you can’t get from generic wrapping paper.

We’re fortunate in Richmond to have so many amazing local craft shops, pop-ups, and holiday markets. Any of these are great places to find gifts. A couple of the holiday markets that run nearly every day up until Christmas Eve are Studio Two Three and VizArts’ Bizarre Market.

If you want to try ditching the physical gift altogether, consider giving chores and experiences over things. Consumable gifts are another good option. These choices can eliminate any worry over product lifespan or excess product waste.

If you’re ready to say goodbye to lower-tech items, reach out to your local buy-nothing group. You never know what your neighbors may need. Older sheets, bedding, and towels can be donated to local animal shelters.

Decorating & Dining

For décor, natural products are probably the best options to cut down on plastic. When you’re finished with those nature-made wreaths, garlands, shrubs, and flowers, simply remove the ribbons and bows and head to the composter.

If you don’t have your own compost and would like to get started with one, Richmond residents can purchase a discounted bin ($41.50) from the Clean City Commission. If home composting isn’t your thing, you can bring food scraps, wreaths, and garlands to any of Richmond Parks & Recreation’s 20 compost drop-off bins located at various points around the city.

And, of course, there’s again the Jan. 13, 2024 Bring One For The Chipper event at the Robin Hood Road recycling drop-off location, where you can drop off your Christmas tree.

When it comes to entertaining, CVWMA wants you to “just say ‘no’ to party plastic.” Reach for reusable plates, cups, and cutlery at holiday parties. If you must use single-use dining ware, consider compostable materials. You can recycle your wine corks at Eco Inspired down in North Chesterfield, a refill shop that provides bulk refill options for most types of household cleaners and personal hygiene products.

It can feel impossible to fight the force of the holidays. A frenzy of gift opening, glossy new items to unbox, assemble, and power amidst piles of discarded wrapping. To many of us, this feels like a classic Christmas, an inevitable part of an American holiday tradition. It can be hard to imagine oneself out of that inevitability and create new traditions that produce less waste and, ultimately, less consumption.

Start with one thing you’d like to do differently this year — recycling, reusing, composting, buying more local gifts, or making it to the January 13th recycling event. Consider the lifespan of the product before you buy it. If the item is likely only good for a year or two before it hits the trash, reconsider that purchase.  There could be a more sustainable gift option. When the problem seems large, start small. Through incremental behavior changes, we can use holiday traditions to better support the local Richmond economy and tamper regional excess waste.

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