The hustle and bustle of the holidays extends to recyclers as the holidays are a notoriously busy time for the collection and processing. Residents have more to recycle as mail order catalogs and holiday greeting cards stuff their mailboxes, and newspapers get thicker during the holidays due to additional print advertising, flyers and inserts.
Additionally, delivery trucks are busily scurrying around town delivering gifts and supplies all nicely packaged in cardboard boxes. During the holidays resident toss away more material than at any other time of the year.
As recyclers, we welcome more recycling. After all, much of the extra waste generated during the holidays is easily recycled. Gift boxes, wrapping paper, cards, junk mail, magazines, catalogs, plastic, glass and aluminum containers—we want it all! We just need to make certain that our local curbside and drop-off recycling programs don’t get too overloaded during the holidays.
Recycling centers need to be ready for the additional volume, which can grow by more than 25 percent during the holidays. To be prepared, managers of recycling centers should make certain that tip floor space is clear and ready for the day’s inbound material. Management of inbound material is critical not just for the recycling center but also for collection companies who need to get unloaded and have their trucks back on the streets in a timely manner.
Additionally, recycling center managers and logistical coordinators should work in advance of the holidays to minimize inventory inside the recycling facility’s bale storage area to ensure adequate space for extra outbound material.
Staffing can also present some challenges during the holidays. Employees schedule extra time off around the holidays and managers need to schedule accordingly to ensure the facility is properly staffed to handle the increase in recycling. Managers also need to adjust for longer hours on collection route and at the recycling center to keep up with larger volumes of recyclable material. And finally, the recycling center may require a few extra pairs of hands working on the presort area to remove non-recyclable items that may cause operational issues.
For all these reasons, managers must be certain to have adequate staff on all shifts to effectively and efficiently operate during the holidays.
In terms of processing recyclables, we know that the extra fiber from bigger newspapers and cardboard can create capacity issues at the recycling center. Operators should be ready to handle not just more material but also bigger pieces of cardboard such as the packaging around big-screen televisions, big toys and large gifts.
Recycling center operators also should be careful and instruct workers to watch for strings of Christmas tree lights that are tossed into the recycling container and can result in serious delays in operations when wires get wrapped around moving screens and conveyors.
Education is Key
Education is a helpful tool to get the right material into the recycling container. The holidays and the beginning of the New Year provide an excellent opportunity to educate and remind residents what is and what is not recyclable. In addition to reminding people about recyclables and what is on the “naughty” and “nice” list, it is also a good time to educate people on how they can be more sustainable, such as buying items made from recycled material, using reusable shopping bags and choosing gifts that have minimal-packaging.
Residents should be reminded that gift boxes, wrapping paper and other paper packaging can be recycled with their regular paper and cardboard recycling. These items could require the residents to remove tape, ribbons and other decorations prior to tossing the items into their recycling container along with other paper, glass, metal and plastic items.
During the holidays, we also see some unique items appear in the waste stream that may require special treatment, including excessive electronic waste or e-waste and Christmas trees. Many recycling centers see an uptick in electronic waste as people are getting rid of their old electronics, which were replaced with the newest technology.
Again, the educational program provides an opportunity to remind residents that if they recently upgraded to newer electronics they should seek out an e-waste recycling program and avoid sending electronics to the landfill.
Many communities sponsor or host Christmas tree composting programs. If the community you serve is hosting a Christmas tree collection or chipping event, you may want to include details about the program in your education outreach. Make sure you are clear that trees need to be completely cleared of lights, tinsel, ornaments and tree stands.
The holidays are a busy time for recycling centers but with a little planning, preparation and education, everyone will have a more happy, prosperous and sustainable New Year!