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Holiday Afterglow: Read This Before You Throw Out Used Gift Wrap

A picture of gift wrapping supplies

Christmas is no time to take a holiday from recycling. That's according to Raleigh Environmental Coordinator Bianca Howard.

She said the amount of trash headed to the landfill spikes during the holidays. Much of it can be recycled, but Howard cautioned that a good portion of it cannot.

"Contamination is a huge issue," said Howard. "Trucks are going to the recycling center to drop off recyclables. They should leave empty. Instead we're sending another truck twice a day, and that one is filled up with baled garbage: so the Christmas lights, the Styrofoam the plastic bags that went into our blue carts and didn't belong."

Raleigh contracts with Sonoco Recycling to sort and process recyclables. Howard said that company estimates that 14 percent of the city's recyclables are actually trash.

She estimated that Raleigh pays at least $40,000 per year to landfill items that were improperly tossed in the recycling bin.

"We appreciate customers who recycle only the items listed in our curbside program, apartment recycling program, and drop-off recycling sites," Howard said.

Here are a few of the big culprits.

DO Recycle: wrapping paper, thin cardboard, corrugated cardboard.

DON'T Recycle: foil gift wrap, ribbons and bows, tissue paper, strings of lights, styrofoam, plastic bags.

Christmas trees can be collected and processed as yard waste, but lights and ornaments should be removed before O Tanenbaum hits the curb. Howard said residents can take unwanted strings of lights to an electronics recycler.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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