Dispose responsibly this holiday season

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published December 18, 2022

 Christmas lights can be harmful to recycling equipment if included with regular recycled materials.

Christmas lights can be harmful to recycling equipment if included with regular recycled materials.

Shutterstock image


METO DETROIT — The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most wasteful time of the year.

Local recycling and waste management agencies are reminding the public to be mindful of what they throw away this holiday season and how they dispose of it.

Jeff McKeen is the general manager of the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority, which serves a dozen communities in the metro Detroit area, including Troy, Birmingham, Royal Oak and Ferndale. He is among those who want the public to remain aware of what they are throwing away.

“This is a peak time of year for us,” he said. “We get a lot of stuff. Wrapping paper, boxes, catalogs, and so forth. We want people to keep recycling in mind and to know that there are certain things like batteries that you shouldn’t recycle and to dispose of materials like that in the regular trash or at specific collection events for those other materials.”

Mike Csapo, the general manager of the Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County, which serves nine local communities, agreed with McKeen that wrapping materials are the biggest issue around the Christmas season and the first thing he would tell people to be mindful about how it is disposed of.

“We get a lot of questions this time of year about recyclability of various types of wrapping materials and decorations,” said Csapo. “As far as wrapping goes, cardboard boxes are recyclable, tissue or packing paper is recyclable, but plastics like bubble wrap are not. All Christmas wrapping paper is recyclable if it doesn’t have a metallic or glitter pattern on it.”

Glitter may or may not be a problem for local recycling centers, and it can depend on the center whether materials with glitter on them can be recycled with them or not. Other materials, such as bags with plastic handles, are not accepted anywhere.

“Each set of communities is going to have their own rules. … Glitter is not a problem for us,” said McKeen. “Plastic-coated paper that covers a lot of gift bags can’t be recycled, and the same goes for plastic handles. It’s better to not buy them in the first place, but you can cut off the plastic handles or other recycled materials and recycle the rest. The best solution is just to buy recyclable items in the first place. … Any paper of any type and any cardboard should be recycled. That is true anywhere you go. You can just put it in your bin. We ask any materials like Styrofoam and plastic be removed first. That’s the bulk of what people will dispose of.”

McKeen and Csapo both said one of the biggest issues for organizations such as SOCRRA and RRRASOC is old Christmas lights. Not only do they sometimes contain unrecyclable materials, but they also can cause mechanical problems at recycling centers as well.

“The other question we get a lot is about decorations, which should not go in recycling,” Csapo said. “A string of lights can be treated along with other types of electronics as part of household hazardous waste disposal programs, which we and other companies often host.”

McKeen agreed and said that people should look for facilities or collection events in their communities for electronics they wish to throw away.

“Christmas tree lights can’t go in a recycling bin,” said McKeen. “They can get tangled in the machinery in our facilities. If a community has a scrap metal drop-off site in their community, such as one we operate in Troy, that is where that would go. A lot of electronics go into people’s homes at Christmas, so a lot then goes out. We have a specific recycling site in Troy that accepts all materials like that. Most communities have an electronics collection event a couple times a year, so people can hold onto that sort of thing until then.”

He added that clothing and linens are better dealt with by donating them to secondhand stores or nonprofits. If they are soiled and unusable, they would just go into the regular trash.

The other problem commonly encountered by recycling organizations is when people dispose of batteries, a common trash item during the holiday season.

“We want people to be mindful of anything with a battery in it when they dispose of it. It doesn’t go into recycling, since they can become safety hazards,” said Csapo. “Those should be treated as hazardous waste and be disposed of at one of the events I mentioned earlier. They should be stored in a glass, ceramic or plastic container until then. You don’t want to store them in a place that can conduct electricity, in case there’s a residual charge.”

Both said a little bit of mindfulness can go a long way in helping dispose of items responsibly. Csapo said the best advice is to always keep in mind what will happen to an item or material when it’s bought.

“Whenever there’s an opportunity to reuse items, particularly with wrapping and in making holiday meals, do it,” he remarked. “Use reusable plates or silverware. Think about wrapping materials before you buy it in regard to what will happen to it when you’ve finished with it.”