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Advice from Some Solid Waste Firms on Managing Holiday Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that roughly 80 percent of holiday waste could be recycled or repurposed.

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons and all those gifts set great scenes for the holidays, but not so much at the curb, in landfills and at recycling centers. Each year, 25 million extra tons of waste pour in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day bulwarked by the gift giving tied to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations. During that time, waste generation per U.S. household increases 25 percent, but the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that roughly 80 percent of holiday waste could be recycled or repurposed.

Of course, there’s lots to be recycled or reused for next season, but getting customers in the spirit to get the right items in the right bin can be a monumental task. So what are some solid waste leaders doing to remind customers what’s naughty or nice in terms of waste this holiday season?

Republic Services is reaching out to customers with a newly released 2017 holiday recycling video, and offers tips to help.

The most common non-recyclables contaminating the recycling waste stream during the holiday season include bubble wrap, cellophane, string/rope, ribbons and bows, batteries, food, clothing, cell phones and Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene foam.

Haulers advise customers to check with local recycling and waste collection service providers or solid waste authorities to confirm what items can be recycled curbside or through the community drop-off this season. Republic also recommends checking in advance on any changes to holiday collection dates or times and special instructions for disposing of Christmas trees.

"The holiday season can be a hectic time of year for just about everyone," said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services in a press release. "Many of us want to be more sustainable during the holidays, but we aren't sure how or we just don't have the time.”

To help, Republic recently offered these five holiday tips for customers to make environmentally responsible choices.

  1. When giving holiday gifts, commit to reusing laminated bags and recycling those made of paper.
  2. Shipping gifts? Make shredded paper out of old newspapers and be sure to reuse last year's bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts.
  3. After opening gifts, remember to recycle the wrapping paper – even the shiny stuff – but save and reuse the ribbons and bows.
  4. Getting a new device this holiday season? Make sure your old phone or tablet does not get tossed in with the recycling. Check with your local service provider on any special instructions or electronics recycling options.
  5. Enjoy that holiday latte, just remember the paper cup, plastic lid and paper sleeve should be Empty, Clean & Dry before tossing them into the recycling container.

For retailers, planning ahead to manage waste cost, can ensure a happy holiday season for businesses and consumers alike. From adjusting waste and recycling services to account for more inventory, proper training in waste and recycling practices and building a robust waste management program year round, retailers can better prepare for their busiest season through data and best practices.

Retail stores can plan ahead for those waste management costs, says Arnold Bowers, business solutions director for Ecova’s Waste Solutions Group, a data and technology company.

Bowers is advising clients to have plans in place ahead of time to help anticipate the increased needs for waste management issues like extra pickups at the holidays.

Data from Ecova allows retail clients to see how much they spent previous years, what extras were needed and at what times, says Kristin Kinder, Ecova product manager for waste.

At the holidays, high sales and revenues mean larger amounts of packaging, including cardboard, which Kinder says tends to stay at the store level.

Bowers adds that that increase in cardboard, can help diversion goals because there’s more to recycle, which means there’s also more to be made if stores are getting paid for it.

So being prepared is key.

“Invest in recycling and training all year,” says Kinder.

Ecova takes data like year-round sustainability reports or diversion versus landfill information and charts it for clients at both the site level and all stores performing.

Some retailers, she says, find out the hard way that they weren’t properly prepared for the increase in packaging and other waste that comes with the season. Training seasonal workers about properly handling waste helps if they are, “fitting into a culture, instead of creating one,” she says.

On an operational level Ecova serves as a single point of contact should something like adding an additional day for pickup, matching store schedule to the hauler’s schedule or adding additional capacity come up, Kinder says. With the information, the retailer can tweak or adjust

Ecova allows clients to pull reports to get their historical data and plan for the increase of sales and waste from Thanksgiving through January.

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