Which holiday items can be recycled, and which belong in the trash

Winter in Central Pa.

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — With the holidays come a plethora of “packages, boxes [and] bags,” as the famous Grinch quote goes. But after the holidays are over, should those boxes, bags, and other holiday items go in the trash or the recycling bin?

Kathryn Sandoe, head of communications and public affairs at the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, urges people to only recycle materials they know can be recycled. “Wishful recycling” — when individuals with good intentions put items in the recycling bin that cannot be recycled — can actually do more harm than good.

In Lancaster County, Sandoe says, only the “Big 4” can be put in the curbside recycling bin: corrugated cardboard, glass bottles and jars, metal food and drink cans, and plastic bottles or jugs with necks that are smaller than their bases. Nearby areas like York and Dauphin counties have similar rules, says Sandoe.

Items that get recycled in error are called “contaminants.” Sandoe says contaminants reduce the quality of recyclables so manufacturers may not buy them, they increase the cost of the recycling process “which ultimately comes back to the resident,” and they can even damage recycling equipment.

While some items can’t be recycled in curbside bins, it may be possible to recycle them at other drop-off locations. These materials include newspapers, plastic shopping bags, and possibly even Christmas trees.

While corrugated cardboard boxes (think of the shipping boxes all those online purchases have been arriving in) can be recycled in curbside bins, chipboard containers like cereal or tissue boxes must be taken to a different location.

Live Christmas trees can often be composted, though the exact process varies by municipality. All decorations must be removed from the trees for them to be composted, says Sandoe. Artificial Christmas trees can sometimes be recycled at special locations, but Sandoe encourages donating any in decent condition to a local nonprofit or family in need.

So this holiday season, which items go in your recycling bin, which can be dropped off for recycling, and which just belong in the garbage? This table has more information about some common holiday items:

For those interested in dropping off materials to be recycled, Sandoe recommends Earth911 as a resource. Users can enter the object to be recycled and their zip code, and the site will offer locations for recycling.

What it all essentially comes down to is “when in doubt, throw it out,” says Sandoe. She says that Lancaster County residents don’t need to feel too bad about throwing away waste because it will be combusted and used for electricity.

However, for those looking to reduce their waste production this season, one thing Sandoe suggests is reusing packagings like gift bags or tissue paper. She also suggests composting food scraps from holiday meals, exchanging paper plates and plasticware for reusable dishes, and using fabric napkins or towels instead of paper ones.

“Make a game out of it,” Sandoe proposes. “Choose one or two things that you would like to work on as a family, whether small or large, that you would like to reduce or change to have a more sustainable holiday…and see how long that you can do that past the holiday season.”


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