Following a Season of ‘Wishing,’ Recycle Only What’s Appropriate

The “most wonderful time of the year” also is the busiest, and not just for retail.

Recycling operations typically record a 10-to-15-percent spike in volume from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

That’ll grow to 20 percent by New Year’s Day, said Duane McDonald, a division manager for Republic Services Inc., a waste management firm that serves Preston Hollow and the Park Cities.

Consider that extra 20-percent holiday bump on top of, for example, the 500 tons of loose paper ready to be processed on any given day at the company’s recycling centers, McDonald said.

“This is the very busiest time of year for recycling, like for retail, and basically for the same reason,” McDonald said. “People are buying gifts, and the resulting packaging is coming to us for recycling.”

Phoenix-based Republic Services operates recycling pick-up throughout the U.S. It has two area processing plants—one in Plano, the other in Fort Worth.

Jumbled in the onslaught is ripped wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and those transparent plastic covers that hold superhero action figures against cardboard backings.

There also are glass bottles that held wine, champagne, or other beverages for holiday cheer.

Next throw in the plastic jugs and tubs for eggnog, whipped toppings, and other foods.

The list seems endless, but not all of is recyclable.

Many items, McDonald said, fall into the category that waste management people jokingly call, “wishful recycling.”

That is, people wish they were recyclable, so they drop them into bins and forget about them. Examples are strands of old Christmas lights because they’re made of glass bulbs, plastic coatings, and metal wiring.

But, McDonald explained, those lights can’t be disassembled. So they clog a recycling plant’s conveyor system, McDonald said.

“We’re actually getting more now,” McDonald said in early December. “People are testing them, seeing they don’t work, and they get tossed.”

Similarly, dead batteries for gadgets are tested and chunked in two waves before and after Christmas.

They, too, can’t be recycled at the plant, but even old batteries have enough charge that, when crushed, can ignite the tons of loose paper, endangering the workers.

So in this season of giving, consider a break for the people who recycle discarded household items.

It’s not hard, McDonald said. Just think first: If you wish it to be recyclable, it probably isn’t —like your Christmas tree.

“Confusion arises because some cities have collection services for those items,” McDonald said. “But those are separate from ours.”

He suggested residents check their cities’ websites to learn about where to discard holiday trees.

And be aware that items usually recyclable may not be acceptable if “contaminated,” McDonald said. Modern wrapping paper covered in glitter, excessive tape, and staples, are no more recyclable than discarded Christmas lights.

Also, plastic or glass containers should be rinsed clean and dry.

After all, that jug of sour eggnog could splash onto loose paper on the plant’s conveyor, making it “not acceptable for recycling,” McDonald said.

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