For many, Christmas morning consists of unwrapping, unboxing and unpacking. The day after means the clean up of plastic packaging and gift wrap.
During the holiday season, the volume of disposal and recycling increases, according to Paul Howe, community relations manager of Waste Management Kansas City.
While many recycle in hopes of doing right by the environment, most gift wrap cannot be repurposed due to a thin layer of wax coating the paper to give it its shiny appearance.
“We believe that the customer base wants to do the right thing,” Howe said. “Typically, they will put it in the container in the hope that it can be recycled. We call that ‘wish-cycling’.”
Instead of putting something into the recycling bin and hoping for the best, Howe recommends “when in doubt, leave it out, then go find out.” Resources include Waste Management’s website, www.recyclespot.org and the St. Joseph Recycling Center’s website, www.stjoemo.info/301/Recycling-Center.
Alternatives include gift wrap that is made out of recycled material or wrapping that is clearly labeled as recyclable.
“Not all wrapping paper has that glitter, that wax paper on it,” Howe said. “It may not look as shiny, but if you’re really trying to do what’s better for the environment, sometimes we just need to make those choices.”
In general, Howe recommends checking closely to see if something can be recycled before putting it in the appropriate bin. For example, while a lot of plastic can be recycled, plastic bags should not be.
“We call that a tangler,” he said. “It gets wrapped up in our machinery and it can shut down or break it.”
Other potential tanglers include Christmas lights, electrical cords, ropes and clothing items.
The spread of single-stream recycling, which allows people to put all recyclable items into one bin rather than separating them by material, has made it easier to recycle than in past years. However, the new ease of recycling also has increased the number of contaminated items like unwashed food containers and items that can’t be recycled at all.
Since China stopped accepting U.S. recycling, Howe said the focus should lie on finding ways to reduce waste and making sure items that find their way into the recycling bin are truly recyclable.
“There’s a belief out there from residents that if they put material into the container, they’ve recycled,” Howe said. “That’s not what happens. Recycling truly doesn’t happen until the secondary market or the manufacturer can make it into another usable product.”