The Material Recovery Facility (MRF) is located at 600 Moore Rd. (Metro Wire photo)

Column: Proper holiday recycling and disposal, explained

By Amanda Haffele

American households produce 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This includes everything from food waste, wrapping paper, discarded electronics, holiday decorations, packaging, and everything in between. We get caught up in the fun and forget about the environmental impact the holidays can have.

Please keep waste reduction on your radar when gathering or enjoying the season. Here are a few reminders on proper disposal this holiday season:

Metal tins

Large popcorn or nut tins are recyclable, curbside, if they are 128-ounce (one gallon) or smaller. Anything larger needs to be dropped off at a facility that accepts scrap metal—like the Portage County Transfer Facility. Many popcorn tins are too large to be properly sorted by equipment. Before recycling, remove any left-over kernels and paper dividers (all are trash). 

Wrapping paper, bags, and cards

Due to the very limited amount of recoverable fibers in wrapping and tissue paper, they are unrecyclable by our paper mills (even if it has the chasing arrows symbol or words “recyclable” on them).

When paper gets recycled the fibers get smaller and smaller to a point where they can no longer be captured and reused in new paper or cardboard. Most wrapping and tissue papers are made from the shortest fibers. Many also contain small pieces of foil or plastic to make them shimmer and shine. These small pieces are very difficult to remove during the recycling process and therefore are not wanted by the paper mills. Please place all wrapping and tissue paper into the trash.

Holiday gift bags are reusable and recyclable. If recycling, remove any non-paper handles before placing them in your curbside cart. Holiday cards and envelopes, if they are not on photo paper, can be recycled as well! If the card is drenched in glitter, we ask that you toss that portion into the trash as it’s difficult for paper mills to remove glitter from the mix.

Much of the paper recycled here in Portage County gets recycled into hand paper towels or toilet paper—and no one, except maybe a 5 or 6-year-old, wants to use glittery toilet paper.

Boxes and packaging

Cardboard boxes need to be broken down before placing them in your cart or bin. Before recycling, large plastic windows should be removed and tossed into the trash. Protective packaging such as molded plastic, Styrofoam, or twist ties needs to be removed and tossed into the trash as well. Molded paper or cardboard can be recycled as long as it has been flattened, a few good foot stomps should do the trick. Paper directions or booklets are recyclable.

Single-use items

Single-use items are just that, single-use. If you don’t want to save and reuse them at the next gathering, then they do need to be disposed of in the trash. All plastic single-use cups, silverware, bowls, plates, etc. are trash. Paper plates and napkins need to go into the trash as well.

Glass and ornaments 

Glass bottles and jars are recyclable, please remove corks and caps and toss those into the trash before recycling the bottles. Any broken cups, plates, or ornaments need to be thrown into the trash. These items are not compatible with glass bottles or jars.

Holiday lights

Stands of holiday lights are not a curbside-recyclable item. They wrap around sorting equipment, similar to how hair wraps around the vacuum cleaner, and cause expensive shutdowns and inefficient sorting. Strands of holiday lights and netting can be dropped off for recycling at one of the following locations through the end of January: the Portage County Solid Waste in Plover, Veterans Memorial Park parking lot in the Village of Plover, City of Stevens Point Public Drop-off, Recycling Connections in Stevens Point, the Village of Amherst Village Hall, Village of Whiting Village Hall, Town of Amherst Town Hall, Town of Hull Municipal Building, or Town of Pine Grove Municipal Building. 

Amanda Haffele is the Portage County Solid Waste Director and she works at the Material Recovery Facility, 600 Moore Rd., in the Plover Industrial Park. It can be reached at 715.346.1931 or www.co.portage.wi.us/department/solidwaste.