Dealing with Holiday Hurricane Debris

I remember Christmases as a kid at my grandparent’s house. Me, my siblings, and a half dozen or so cousins tearing into presents while my grandpa and uncles sat back, cans of beer in hand, feigning excitement at all the things they’ll end up tripping over within a week.

Then us kids would run off to play with (and argue over, and lose parts to) whatever toy we most fancied at the moment. The men would wade through the mountains of wrapping paper to replace empty cans with full ones and the moms would take to picking up the seemingly hurricane-strewn wrapping paper shards, carefully filtering out cards, toy parts, and the occasional five dollar bill or gift card.

Now that I find myself on the parent side of the hurricane debris, I look at the stacks of empty cans, piles of dirty dishes, and all that discarded wrapping paper and realize just how much work Christmas is for us adults. Then as I shove all the non-recyclables into and around the garbage can, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way to manage all this waste.

So I called Area Recyclers and spoke with Darven Kendall, asking all the questions I generally muse over during post-holiday cleanup.

Wrapping paper
Let’s start with all that gift wrapping and product packaging. It’s always bugged me that I can’t recycle wrapping paper. After all, it’s just paper, right? Why can’t I just throw it in with the newspapers?

Turns out, Kendall explained, that not all paper is created equal. The biggest problem with wrapping paper is the metallic print that makes the good stuff so shiny. When the paper is dissolved into pulp, that metallic-laced ink causes all sorts of problems and is almost impossible to filter out. Basically it screws up the whole recycling process so it’s just best to keep it out of the mix.

That, and wrapping paper isn’t generally the highest grade by paper standards, making it that much harder to break down and recycle into new paper. Makes sense I guess, but it still bums me out that I can’t recycle the stuff.

But a possible – and rather economical – work around is to use newspaper in place of store-bought wrapping paper. I did this for a number of years, until my wife made me stop. Apparently newspaper isn’t very festive. But I would use the comic section for a dash of color and comedy making a double gift of sorts.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I may just start using the pages this column is printed on. Since my picture is on it, everyone will automatically know who it’s from.

“Hey wifey, don’t buy any more wrapping paper, I have an idea!”

Plastic Wrap and Grocery Bags
That plastic wrap that everything seems to be packaged in these days is equally problematic. Just like plastic grocery bags, it’s not recyclable here. Technically it is recyclable, but according to Kendall, the issue here is volume and sorting. Those air bags they put in boxes to cushion your gift during shipping isn’t the same as the plastic bags you get at the grocery store. And collectively, there just isn’t enough volume of either to make taking them locally a viable option economically.

Beverage container boxes
While we’re on the subject of cardboard, why is it that beer and soda boxes are not considered cardboard and are not recyclable? That, according to Kendall, is on account of what those boxes are designed to do – specifically, hold things that are prone to getting wet and not fall apart when they do.

It actually makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. Ever had a can break open inside the box? Ever notice how cans sweat when they go from cold to warm places? Yet the boxes don’t just turn to mush and drop your remaining beers all over the floor. The boxes aren’t exactly waterproof, but they hold up to getting pretty wet.

Which is exactly why they don’t recycle. They don’t break down into pulp very well and they have quite a bit of adhesive (instead of tape) on them, which further messes up the pulping process. That’s why recycling centers generally don’t take them.

Cans, Bottles, and Cardboard
On the bright side, cardboard (the corrugated kind) is recyclable. So break those boxes down and put them out for curbside pickup or chuck them in the proper bin at any of the area recycling drop offs.
Also recyclable, or redeemable, are most all of those beverage cans and bottles. Cash them in and maybe use the refund money to pay your kid to do the dishes.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

This post originally appeared in my Living Land column in The Hawk Eye.

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