Recycling groups encourage smart recycling after holidays

By: Sherri Kolade, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 22, 2017

 Inside Farmington resident Lydia Makin-Camel’s family home sits a 1-foot-tall Norfolk pine, which will grow to about 3 feet tall and will become her permanent Christmas tree.

Inside Farmington resident Lydia Makin-Camel’s family home sits a 1-foot-tall Norfolk pine, which will grow to about 3 feet tall and will become her permanent Christmas tree.

Photo provided by Lydia Makin-Camel

OAKLAND COUNTY  — Now that holiday festivities have somewhat calmed, it’s time to make plans for those baubles, balls and trappings that decked your halls.

But before you decide to chuck your evergreens, some recycling experts would like to have a word.

The Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County and the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority have holiday recycling guidelines to help residents reduce their carbon footprint.

RRRASOC is an intergovernmental municipal solid waste authority created in 1989 that serves Farmington, Farmington Hills, Southfield, Troy, Novi, South Lyon, Walled Lake and Wixom.

SOCRRA, a municipal corporation founded in the early 1950s, according to its website, has 12 member municipalities: Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Troy.  

Mike Csapo, RRRASOC’s general manager, said in an email that recycling is key to ensuring that the remainder of the holiday season is merry and bright.

“With the amount of excess packaging and wrapping material generated during the holiday season, it is important for everyone to recycle as much as possible while making sure what they put in their carts and bins is truly recyclable,” Csapo said in the email. “Paying attention to our recycling guidelines is important so that we are recycling right.’’

RRRASOC’s holiday recycling guidelines, which can be found online, have a list of acceptable items that can be recycled through residents’ municipal curbside recycling program and at RRRASOC’s recycling drop-off sites in Southfield and Novi. 

Items that can be recycled through RRRASOC include plastic bottles; containers and packaging; No. 3 plastic, but no plastic bags and no Styrofoam; cardboard boxes flattened and cut to size; boxboard from gift and food box packaging; nonmetallic greeting cards, photo cards and envelopes; and nonmetallic wrapping paper, gift bags and paper tubes. Other recyclable items include aluminum foil, pans and trays that are emptied and rinsed; and food and beverage cartons. Electronics and tree light strings are not accepted, according to the newsletter.

Also, bows, ribbons and tissue papers cannot be recycled through RRRASOC.

Similar rules apply to SOCRRA’s holiday recycling. The full list of recyclable items is available online.

Anne Farris, a SOCRRA office administrator, said via email that, in general, all municipal recyclables — including paper, cardboard, and plastic, metal and glass containers — are sorted at SOCRRA’s Material Recovery Facility and are trucked out by its recycling partners.

Farris said they see some common recycling mistakes.

“As it pertains to recycling in SOCRRA communities only, it is a common misconception that every recyclable material can go into the curbside carts. This is not accurate,” she said. “Only paper, cardboard, and clean plastic, metal and glass containers can be recycled curbside,” she said, adding that plastic bags and plastic wraps, including bubble wrap, and scrap metal are not recyclable.

She said that those items are normally accepted at SOCRRA’s Recycling Drop-off Center, at 995 Coolidge Highway in Troy — but currently, the drop-off center is closed for construction.

Farris said that Christmas trees can be disposed of curbside in SOCRRA communities.

“Most offer chipping or pickup (for composting) through mid-January. All decorations, lights must be removed,” she said.

Rachel Klegnon, the executive director of Green Living Science, a nonprofit recycling education program in Detroit, said that if you miss your local Christmas tree curbside pickup, don’t worry. There are plenty of other things people can do with a real tree when the season is over.

The National Wildlife Federation website suggests redecorating your tree in a wildlife-friendly way to make it an attractive habitat for local animals. Popcorn strings, peanut butter, fresh fruit and bird seed are prettier than lights and bulbs to the birds and squirrels in your community.

People can also break down the tree to make a comfy brush pile for animals to enjoy in the backyard, or use the cuttings to insulate a garden. As the season goes on, garden beds will be protected from the harsh winter conditions, and as the tree decomposes, it will serve as compost for the soil.

Another option is Christmas tree recycling through the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department. That is available at 11 county parks for member communities, including Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods and Royal Oak. After the holidays, residents of member cities can recycle their trees at the sites, which are open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. seven days a week Dec. 26-Jan. 29, according to the website. Tree drop-offs are free of charge, but plastic, tinsel and wire must be removed; commercial trees are not accepted.

Christmas tree recycling sites can be found at the following county facilities: 

• Addison Oaks County Park — Leonard

• Catalpa Oaks County Park — Southfield

• Glen Oaks Golf Course — Farmington Hills 

• Groveland Oaks County Park — Holly 

• Independence Oaks County Park— Clarkston 

• Lyon Oaks County Park — Lyon Township 

• Oakland County Farmers Market — Waterford

• Orion Oaks County Park — Orion Township

• Red Oaks Golf Course —Madison Heights

• Springfield Oaks County Park — Davisburg

• White Lake Oaks Golf Course — Waterford

The trees are processed to make compost and wood chips, which are distributed throughout the year.

Farmington resident Lydia Makin-Camel, 25, is a connoisseur of Christmas recycling, some might say. The mindful millennial composts her Christmas trees, which her parents use for gardening the following spring.

Makin-Camel said that while she could drop off her Christmas tree at Glen Oaks, her family uses their own backyard.

“We usually chop the tree up, use it as firewood — put it in the garden or something ourselves,” she said.

Klegnon said that holiday discards should be carefully sorted for recyclability. While cardboard boxes can certainly go to the curb for recycling pickup, other items, such as Christmas lights, need to be dropped off directly at the recycling hauler’s facility.

And many items, unfortunately, need to go straight into the trash.

“I would just remind people not to recycle things like cards or ribbons with glitter on them or other things. Glitter is considered contamination, and it would potentially ruin a lot of material, and then it can’t be recycled into something else.”

While sparkles might be pretty, more sustainable decorations might make for a more eco-friendly holiday, she added.

“Instead of wrapping paper, maybe look for relevant newspapers the recipient might like,” she said, noting that people can jazz up newspapers by decorating them with markers. “Or make kind of a collage out of old magazines they might enjoy, so it’s almost like a gift in itself.”

Farris said that whenever possible, SOCRRA recommends saving cardboard boxes and packing materials for reuse at a later date. 

Those suggestions are right up Makin-Camel’s alley, as she has been doing so for years for financial reasons.

“We actually stopped buying wrapping paper. … It is expensive,” she said, adding that the motivation came from wanting to help the environment, too. 

“We use the same bags … the same tissue paper over and over,” she said. 

Makin-Camel usually chooses the family Christmas tree from somewhere local. In a couple of years, though, her family will go a different route. Currently on a countertop in her home sits a 1-foot-tall Norfolk pine. That tree, decorated with a bird ornament, will grow to about 3 feet tall and will become their permanent Christmas tree. It will remain in their home as a houseplant during other times of the year. 

“They grow pretty all right,” she said, adding that those trees like a warm climate because they are from Norfolk, Virginia. “They’re used to the South and it being super warm.”

She said that she got the idea from a co-worker, and her father has grown one before. Makin-Camel bought the tree at The Vines Flower & Garden Shop in Farmington for $10 and started growing it recently.

For more information, go to rrrasoc.org and www.socrra.org.