For recycling facilities, the holidays can be a real headache.
Americans produce about 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, but only some of it is recyclable. In cities with “single-stream” recycling, like St. Louis, common holiday items can become entangled in machinery and cause major problems at recycling plants.
So which holiday items can go into the blue recycling bins?
Wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags
These paper items are recyclable, as long as they’re not coated in plastic or velvet flocking, said Brent Batliner, general manager for Republic Services in St. Louis.
A good rule of thumb, Batliner said, is that “if you can physically rip it, it’s probably paper.” Be sure to remove any plastic or cloth handles from gift bags, as these are generally not recyclable.
Ribbons and bows
Most ribbons and bows are made of synthetic material and are not recyclable via single-stream recycling.
Ribbons — as well as plastic bags and Christmas lights — wrap around machinery inside the sorting facility, like spaghetti on a fork. At Republic Services in St. Louis, Batliner said workers are forced to shut down the equipment at least twice a day and use razor blades to remove these materials.
Bubble wrap, padded envelopes, plastic bags
Bubble wrap, mailers and plastic bags are not recyclable via single stream recycling and should not be placed in city blue bins.
These items can be recycled at most grocery stores and major retailers, including Target and Schnucks.
Plastic blister packaging
This thin, modeled plastic often used to package toys and other small items is generally not recyclable and should be put in the trash.
“We’re not set up to handle blister packaging,” Brentliner said. “The only plastics we want are food, beverage and household item containers — your water bottles, milk jugs, detergent bottles, yogurt tubs, cleaning items.”
Cardboard, including thick brown shipping boxes and thinner gift boxes, is recyclable.
Be sure to remove all packaging materials, like Styrofoam and plastic bags, from inside the boxes and flatten them.
Foam packing material is not able to be recycled via single-stream facilities, said Elysia Musumeci, sustainability education and outreach coordinator for Brightside St. Louis.
“The big thing we find in recycling bins around the holidays is Styrofoam, like what you would find around like a brand-new TV in the box,” Musumeci said. “People just throw in the whole box that has foam in there still. Styrofoam is not recyclable, so we don't want any of that in our blue bins.”
String lights are not recyclable via single-stream recycling. Like ribbons and plastic grocery bags, strands of lights can create a hazard when they wrap around spinning machinery inside sorting plants.
These locations will accept old Christmas lights year-round, according to the city of St. Louis:
- Forerunner Recycling, 9728 Reavis Park Drive, Affton, MO 63123
- Lowe’s, 932 Loughborough Ave., St. Louis, MO 63111
- Midwest Recycling Center, 11139 S. Towne Square, St. Louis, MO 63123
- Spectrum Ecycle Solutions, 1521 Page Industrial Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132
- Scrap Mart, 145 W. Outer Road, Valley Park, MO 63088
- Wellston Scrap Metal, 6540 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, St. Louis, MO 63133
Live trees are not recyclable and should not be placed in alley bins, but they can be dropped off at three locations in the St. Louis area from Dec. 26 through Jan. 12. Remove all tinsel, ornaments and lights from trees before drop-off. Wood chips are later available for free to St. Louis city residents.
- Forest Park: Lower Muny Opera parking lot
- Carondolet Park: Grand Avenue and Holly Hills Boulevard intersection, between gate and recycling containers
- O’Fallon Park: West Florissant Avenue and Holly Avenue, picnic grounds #4
Artificial trees are made of polyvinyl chloride and are not recyclable. Donate unwanted artificial trees to nonprofit organizations.
To find places to donate or recycle a variety of materials, including holiday items, check the St. Louis City Recycles’ database.
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