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Hustle, Bustle, Trash, and Recycling

November 15, 2016

It’s the holiday season. Along with the hustle, bustle, and cheer comes trash. Trash, of course, increases dramatically this time of year (about 25%), as does recycling (also around 25%). These stats make it even more important that each of us in the field do our part to promote the “3R’s+” and “recycle right” this time of year.

Education is fundamental to ensuring the future of recycling. Many of us have slacked on promoting the basics of proper recycling—what goes in the recycle bin and what does not. Budgets are tight all around and unfortunately outreach and public education have suffered. The downturn in recycling markets has clearly added to tightening budgets. Single-stream has made it easier to recruit people to recycle, but it has also made us complacent in our duties to ensure a clean stream of material for use in manufacturing new products.

We’ve lost sight of our goals. Yes, we want to keep materials from heading to the landfill or incinerator. But, ultimately, if we can’t put those materials into manufacturing new products because they are too contaminated, we’ve failed.

The tools for education have also changed. People of all ages have less time and pay far less attention to mailings, fliers, and newspapers which use to be the “tools” of outreach.

While people are focused on the holidays and whatever rituals and activities this time of year conjures for them, the season also presents an opportunity to promote proper recycling and environmental stewardship. Be seasonal! Create a RecyclingNaughty and Nice List – it’s a great way to let residents know what is and isn’t recyclable when it comes to wrapping paper, packaging, etc.


NICE (recyclable)

Gift boxes

Tissue paper

Shoe boxes

Christmas trees

Holiday cards/envelopes

Gift bags (if paper)


NAUGHTY (not recyclable)

Bubble wrap (consider reusing)

Wrapping paper (consider reusing)

Ribbon and bows (consider reusing)

Anything on the tree

Sticky gift labels

Gift bags (if coated, laminated or dyed)

Foam peanuts



Be sure to remind people that tape, sticky labels, ribbons and other decorations should be removed before putting recyclable wrapping and packaging in their recycling bin. Packing peanuts and other materials need to be removed and cardboard boxes need to be broken down (or cut down if large) to be collected curbside.

Reminders on the proper recycling of batteries and electronics are also important. Electronics, cell phones, and consumer items with batteries abound during the holidays. Residents need to know the importance of recycling electronics and specifics on what is recyclable, how to prepare cell phones and computer items (removing personal data), and where they can recycle . Are there battery recycling drop-offs? How about cell phone collections, maybe through local schools or nonprofit organizations. How do residents find out their closest electronics scrap drop-off?

Christmas trees and food scraps round out the holiday messaging cycle. Timely and consistent announcements on how trees will be collected and how they need to be prepared should occur early and often. It may seem obvious, but be sure to include in reminders that all tinsel, ornaments/decorations, ornaments, and tree stands need to be removed. These reminders will ensure a cleaner (and safer) material stream for mulching.

The holidays mean lots of cooking and eating. If composting of food scraps is offered either through drop-off or curbside collection, the holidays present an opportune time to promote food scrap composting. Reminders on what can go in the collection bin should be revisited this time of year. Again, playing on the holiday messaging theme, it’s a perfect time to talk about the impact landfilling food scraps has on the environment and the benefits of reducing wasted food, food donation, and of course composting (or diversion to anaerobic digestion).

How to Get Your Holiday Messages Out

Printed materials –fliers, brochures, newspaper inserts are still effective for some targeted audiences. Effective use of webpages is also important—pages need to be updated regularly in order to gain audiences. And, of course there’s social media.

Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Instagram and other social media outlets are free or low cost. Social media is the perfect outlet for holiday 3R and "recycle right" messaging. And, social media can effectively reach across demographics and age groups.

Simple, consistent messages can be easily compiled and promoted on a daily basis through social media outlets.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet on using social media and “recycle right.”

By Athena Lee Bradley

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