It’s the season of lights. And delicious food. And packaging.
So much packaging.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency the volume of household waste in the United States increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
So, can you recycle it?
When it’s time to take down the tree
Christmas Trees: Put the tree out with your yard debris or enlist a nonprofit to recycle it.
Find out how and where to recycle your tree
String lights: One goes out, they all go out. Strings of holiday lights can’t go in the home recycling bin but they don’t have to be garbage. You can take them to a metal recycler who will separate the valuable copper wire from the plastic. Search Metro’s online database for a recycler close to you. Leave small bulbs on the strands, but remove large bulbs before drop-off. And when you’re looking for a replacement, consider that LED lights use less energy and last longer.
First, about all that plastic
Blister packs and clamshells: Recyclable? No.
Many small consumer goods come in blister packs, those pre-formed rigid plastic shapes – often with cardboard backing – that are almost impossible to open. Like the hinged containers (often called clamshells) that contain holiday cookies or cherry tomatoes, these plastics cannot go in your home recycling bin. Until recently you could stockpile them and drop them off at recycling facilities or some grocery stores. But because of changes in global recycling markets there is currently nowhere to take them. They must go into the trash.
“It’s more important than ever now that we do it right,” says Metro recycling expert Patrick Morgan. “Putting things in the curbside recycling that shouldn’t be there damages the whole process.”
Morgan says that some well-intentioned recyclers place items they aren’t sure about in the recycling bin in hopes they’ll be recycled. But they aren’t. And not only does that prove costly to recyclers who then have to deal with garbage, it’s also hard to sort all that stuff out, and when it doesn’t get sorted, it makes the rest of the recycling less valuable. A sustainable recycling system, Morgan says, depends on users knowing what stays out of the bin as well as what goes in.
Plastic bubble wrap, wrap and bags: Recyclable? Yes, but not at home.
Bubble wrap and plastic bags are part of a larger category known as “film” plastics that stretch easily over your thumb. Bubble wrap, of course, can be saved and reused, or your neighborhood UPS or similar mail store may take sheets with the bubbles intact.
But at home, keep bubble wrap, along with all plastic bags and other film plastic out of the recycling bin. It gets tangled in the machines at the sorting facility and bring operations to a halt. Find a place to drop them off or throw them in the garbage.
Other types of packaging
Styrofoam block: Recyclable? Yes, but only at one location.
Keep Styrofoam out of recycling bins. You can drop it off 24/7 at one processor in greater Portland: Agilyx in Tigard turns it into an oil that is used to make new products. Otherwise, it’s garbage.
Packing peanuts: Recyclable? No, but they may be reusable.
Check whether your local packaging store (places like UPS Store or Maiboxes Etc.) will take your extra packing peanuts. Otherwise, they go in the trash – if you do that, it’s best to contain them in a sealed bag.
The ribbons and wrap
Decorative bows and ribbons: Recyclable? No, but they may be reusable.
These can be removed and reused, says Morgan, but keep them out of the recycling bin. You might donate them to a place like SCRAP. Otherwise they are garbage.
Wrapping paper: Recyclable? Yes, in some cases. It also may be reusable.
Wrapping paper can be recycled in your home bin. Even the shiny metallic stuff? As it turns out, all that glitters is not gold – or even metal. The rule is, he says, if it bends, tears and behaves like paper, it can go into the home recycling bins.
If it behaves like metal foil, then it goes into future art or craft projects – or into the garbage.
You might also consider wrapping gifts in newspaper, comics, old maps or pages from the phone book. Or use tea towels, scarves or bandanas that make the wrapping part of the gift.
Electronics: Did Santa bring a new Xbox or phone that’s replacing your old one? Items like these cannot be recycled at home. Many electronics contain hazardous materials and the law requires that they must be recycled. You can recycle televisions, computers and some other items for free at locations around greater Portland.
Batteries: Take household batteries like those AAs and Ds to a hazardous waste facility or some retail stores. There are many other kinds of batteries - each use a variety of chemicals and technologies to supply power to your gadgets and each has different recycling options. Learn more here.
Food waste: Check with food banks about donating unused edible food. Beaverton, Forest Grove , Milwaukie, Oregon City, and Portland all provide residential programs that collect food scraps, including turkey carcasses, apple cores, eggshells etc can go in with yard debris. And to avoid preparing too much food you might plan your next holiday feast using this guestimator.
You can also ask Metro your holiday recycling questions at 503-234-3000 or via email.