The holidays are upon us. For those of us in the waste and recycling industry, we know that waste volumes and recycling tonnages increase dramatically during the holidays. We also know that waste composition changes. And, we know that a little advanced planning and preparation can help us successfully get through the glut of recyclables that will soon be at the curb.
During the holidays resident toss away more material than at any other time of the year. Newspapers get thicker due to robust print advertising and numerous inserts. Mailboxes become stuffed with flyers, catalogs, offers and greeting cards. Package delivery services are busy dropping off boxes all over town. The result…more waste and more recyclables.
Recycling centers need to be ready for the additional volume which can grow by more than 25 percent during the holiday period. As recyclers, we welcome the uptick in volume. After all, much of the extra waste generated during the holidays is easily recycled including cardboard boxes, gift boxes, wrapping paper, cards, junk mail, magazines and catalogs.
To be prepared, managers of recycling centers should make certain that tip floor space is clear and ready for inbound shipments. Management of inbound material is critical not just for the recycling center but also for the operators of hauling companies who need to get collection trucks unloaded and back on the streets in a timely manner. Additionally, recycling center managers should work in advance of the holidays to minimize inventory inside the recycling facility’s bale storage area to ensure adequate storage space.
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.
Holidays present unique challenges
Staffing can also present some challenges during the holidays. Employees schedule end-of the year vacations or time off to travel. Managers need to ensure facilities are properly staffed to handle the increase in recycling. Managers also need to adjust for longer hours on collection routes and at recycling centers to keep up with larger volumes of recyclable material. And finally, recycling centers 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 should also be careful and instruct workers to watch for strings of Christmas tree lights that are tossed into the recycling bin and can result in extra maintenance when wires get wrapped around moving screens and conveyors.
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 increase 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!
Will Flower is general manager with Winters Bros. Waste Systems in Long Island, N.Y.