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IUSB sustainability expert shares recycling tips for the holiday season

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SOUTH BEND, Ind.—The average American throws away about 25% more trash between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s holiday season than during any other time of the year, according to Stanford University.

That influx of trash is largely in part due to holiday shopping.

“As trends have shifted towards ordering your gifts online and having them delivered, we find that you’re getting a lot of boxes, bubble wrap, packing material, those kinds of items. Much of that can be recycled so that’s good but getting it into the right place is important,” said Krista Bailey, Director for Indiana University- South Bend’s Center for a Sustainable Future.

And after holiday shopping comes holiday gift wrapping.

“It’s tricky because we want to wrap our gifts in something really pretty but that especially glittery wrapping paper can’t be recycled. Glitter is lovely and fun, but it’s really just trash waiting to happen,” Bailey said.

Bows, glitter wrapping paper and more are on the long list of popular holiday items that cannot end up in the recycling bin.

Ribbons and bows in particular can prove to be problematic once they make it to a recycling plant.

“When ribbons and bows end up in recycling, they can actually slow down the whole recycling process and cost a lot of time and money and can potentially get caught up in the machinery, you know, if you’ve got a big plastic bow going through the sifters, so that can cause a big, big problem,” Bailey said.

Plain, non-embellished gift wrap and bags however can be tossed into most recycling bins. Colored wrapping paper without glitter and embellishments is also recyclable.

Tape used to hold wrapping paper together can generally be left on when it’s placed in the recycling bin, Bailey said.

Take a look at the lists below for a quick overview of what can and cannot go into a typical curbside recycling bin.

Put these items in (most) recycling containers:

  • Gift and shoe boxes (cardboard)
  • Plain cards and envelopes
  • Plain wrapping paper (no glitter or embellishments)

Don’t put these items in the recycling container:

  • Lights
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cellophane
  • Ribbons/ bows
  • Batteries/ Electronics

Bailey said that while recycling holiday items can be helpful, reusing items year-to-year can be even more successful in reducing individual trash production.

“Reusing things could make a huge difference in the amount of trash you’re rolling out to the curb after the holidays,” Bailey said.

Bailey herself tries to reuse gift bags, decorative boxes, and ribbon year-to year. She also finds alternatives to wrapping paper, like the comic section of newspapers and magazines or holiday-themed cloth napkins, for the gifts she gives.

While the holiday shopping and gifting season is in full swing, Bailey says now is a great time to find ways to be sustainable.

“Do you want a trashy holiday, a trashy new year? Or, do you want a mindful, healthy, clean, productive environment? Now is really the time to set the tone for that, whether it’s in the gifts that you give, or the way you wrap the gifts, or what you do with the materials at the end of the holiday,” Bailey said.

Live Christmas trees can be composted after the holidays and many local areas offer a curbside pickup service. All ornaments, lights, decorations and garlands must be removed from trees before composting.

On December 19, the Elkhart Environmental Center is hosting its final quarterly drop off for 2019. Community members can bring Styrofoam and electronics for recycling to Recycling Works at 605 Mason Street in Elkhart from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday.

If you’re wondering where to recycle items like electronics, cell phones, lights, bubble wrap, Styrofoam and more, visit IUSB’s community recycling information center.

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