Answers to holiday recycling conundrums

A monthly column from Waste Management

By Hannah Scholes

Special to the Record

There’s no time like the holidays for pushing our homes to the limits. Big meals, big family gatherings, big decorating projects — and maybe the need for pants with a larger waistband.

Going all out means the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most wasteful. The good news is our readers are also big on avoiding waste. In this special holiday column, we tackle two common reader questions for a greener holiday season.

Dear Hannah,

Our household is chaotic during the holidays. Between visiting in-laws and kids home for winter break, the house is buzzing with activity. One favorite family tradition is Black Friday Pizza Night. After all that shopping, who has energy for cooking? But things get contentious when it comes to post-meal sorting. My visitors say pizza boxes are cardboard, so they should go in the recycling, but I’m worried the grease-stains will cause contamination. Could you help us end this debate once and for all?

Puzzled About Pizza Boxes

Dear Puzzled,

You are correct, greasy pizza boxes and any other food-soiled paper products cannot be recycled. This goes for bottles and cans too. All materials should be empty, clean and dry. Unfortunately, one greasy pizza box can do more damage than you’d think. Foods, liquids and grease can contaminate entire loads of recycling, making it impossible to close the loop and turn them into new materials.

I suggest posting recycling guides on your fridge or near your recycling container to avoid arguments and help guests recycle right. You can even find printable flyers (with pictures) at recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

Hannah

Dear Hannah,

This time of year, I always have questions about gift wrap, can you help?

1. Once the unwrapping frenzy is over, I use old take-out bags to collect loose bits and pieces of paper for easy transport to my recycling bin, but I heard recently that plastic bags shouldn’t go in my recycling cart. What to do?

2. Can wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows be recycled?

Perplexed by Plastic Bags

Dear Perplexed,

You heard right. Recyclables need to go into the bin un-bagged. Plastic bags wreak havoc on the sorting machinery at recycling centers and can bring entire facilities to a standstill. You can return plastic bags to your local grocery store for recycling. A great alternative is to collect all that wrapping paper in paper bags, cardboard boxes, or other reusable containers.

All non-aluminum wrapping paper can be recycled, but ribbons and bows are too small to be properly sorted at the recycling center and should go in the garbage.

Hannah

Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Over the holidays and year-round, Hannah and her team of recycling experts are on hand to answer questions at recyclenw@wm.com.

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