‘Tis the season for mass consumption, and with it comes massive quantities of waste.
The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) is prepared for the influx of holiday rubbish at the Central Landfill in Johnston, and they’re hoping for the assistance of communities throughout the state to reduce the amount of trash taken to the dump this year.
“Definitely, the holidays in the United States just across the board, waste goes up between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” said Krystal Noiseux, education and outreach manager at RIRRC. “So many people want to do the right thing, they just need the information. We try to teach waste reduction tips, but we also want to remind people of the correct way to recycle in their bin or cart at this time of year, as well as with the usual overflow where people are producing more waste than they typically do.”
Each Rhode Island city and town has different trash pickup and recycling programs. Some towns have standardized trash cans and recycling bins for pickup, while others do not.
In Warwick, Christmas trees are collected separately by the Highway Department during the first two weeks of January, weather permitting, and will be picked up on the same day as regular trash. Trees must be placed curbside by 7:00 a.m., with all artificial decorations such as tinsel, garland, plastic ornaments, lights and bulbs removed. Trees must not be in plastic bags, and artificial trees are not accepted. Collected trees will then be brought to the Warwick municipal recycling facility to be turned into mulch, and wood chips are then made available to residents free of charge.
On Earth Day this year, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to adopt Recycle Across America’s standardized label solution for recycling bins. The free labels, highlighting those items recyclable in Rhode Island’s program in a simplified format, are now displayed on bins in schools and businesses throughout the state. They have been proven to increase recycling levels between 50 and 100 percent while significantly reducing contamination with trash, a challenge RIRRC has experienced for several years.
In an effort to curb this year’s holiday haul, RIRRC has several tips residents may take to trim their trash output, which focuses on recycling basics.
“One of the main rules of thumb is paper, cardboard and cartons,” said Noiseux. “There are also four basic rules for recycling: paper, metals, plastic and glass.”
While some items are easily identifiable as being recyclable, others are not. Additionally, the way residents handle items for recycling also plays a key role in processing the waste stream.
“One of the important things during the holidays to help us make all the paper and the cardboard go through the recycling facility correctly is to keep them as flat as possible,” said Noiseux. “I know during the holidays we like to crunch things up into huge balls, but the way the recycling system works is that everything that is flat moves one way and everything that has a shape to it moves another. As flat as you can keep your wrapping paper, your tissue paper, your tubes, everything as flat as possible, it’s really helpful.”
After a long day of holiday shopping or partying, takeout food and drink becomes an easy way to fight fatigue and make life easier for families but quickly adds to the trash tonnage.
“With certain cardboards, such as pizza boxes, there’s always a little grease at the bottom, and that’s fine. You don’t want sauce and cheese all over it, if it’s completely soaked in grease and it was a really good pizza, just use your best judgment and maybe rip off the top and recycle that,” Noiseux advised
Cardboard and paper brought in for recycling is usually purchased by companies in China and Indonesia, while some goes to New York depending on the market, to be turned into thousands of new items.
“With plastics, the rule of thumb here is containers, plastic containers. If it’s not in the form of a container, it doesn’t belong in your recycling bin or cart,” said Noiseux. “For so long, people have been looking at the number on plastics or the little triangle at the bottom, and that’s caused so much confusion. I tell people don’t even look at that, just ask yourself, ‘Is this a container?’ If it is, it’s probably recyclable.”
Noiseux recommends that these containers be empty at a minimum and rinsed whenever possible.
“I don’t want someone running their peanut butter jar through the dishwasher, that’s a waste. Just scrape out as much as possible, things that come clean easily a quick rinse will do it,” she said. “We’re not looking for perfection, but anytime you have a sink available and can do a quick rinse for something it’s greatly appreciated.”
Plastic water bottle tops are fine for recycling, as are tops for other types of jugs, but glass bottle tops are not.
“The glass rule is just glass bottles and jars, that’s it, no other glass,” said Noiseux. “My Christmas example is glass icicles decorating a tree. If they break, they are not recyclable. Just bottles and jars.”
Advice for metal products center around cans, lids and foil, including Christmas tins and takeout containers that are clean.
“Nothing should be recycled that’s not a can, lid or foil. So if you have metal wire that you’re wrapping your wreath with, which we get a lot of this time of year, it should not go in your recycling bin,” she said. “Tin foil, unlike paper, is good to be bunched up to help it move with containers.”
Common items that break the recycling rules and should not be recycled includes tinsel, heavy duty plastic gift bags, Mylar balloons, and, the bane of RIRRC, Christmas light strings.
“When they wrap around, they will literally shut down the equipment and workers then have to climb onto the screens to pull them or cut them out,” said Noiseux. “It’s very dangerous and they have to do it a few times a day during this time of the year.”
Retailers often offer recycling programs for these unique items. Noiseux said that if there’s an item that breaks the rules for the recycling bin at home, but questions remain if it should be placed in the trash, the RIRRC offers an A to Z search tool, found online at www.rirrc.org/AtoZ, for guidance.
“So if you type in something like Christmas tree lights, you’ll get any of those special dropoff or mail-in programs for those items,” she said. “If you want to go beyond your bin, and you really want to take it up a notch and really improve your holiday waste, that’s where great information can be found.”
Additionally, Styrofoam, which breaks easily and is difficult to handle, isn’t accepted in bins, but there is a container at the small vehicle area at the landfill that will accept Styrofoam dropoffs for free.
“Another question we get all the time, all year round, but especially now with everyone out there shopping, is about plastic bags. They don’t go in your recycling bin, and don’t put recycling items in a plastic bag and put it out. Items should be loose,” said Noiseux. “The place to take these bags is back to major stores, where most have a dropoff bin. If plastic bags are being thrown away, tie them in knots. One of the largest problems on the active side of the landfill is plastic bags being blown by the wind.”
While some waistlines are sure to expand this time of year with all the holiday feasts and treats, perhaps the best place to trim waste is at the dinner table.
“When we talk about the three ‘R’s’ we talk about reduce and reuse first, and then talk about recycle. One of the biggest ways we can reduce at the holidays is if you’re having your big holiday family dinner at your house, opt to use reusable dishware, silverware and cloth napkins, because all of those single use items are not recycle,” said Noiseux. “That will make a huge impact.”
But sometimes, there’s just no alternative for that unique gift that’s no longer wanted or needed, and there’s only one thing to do.
“If you can’t figure it out, it’s trash,” said Noiseux.