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Green Christmas: Reducing holiday waste can save money, help environment

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

For many of us, Christmas morning means a sea of wrapping paper, gift bags and toy packaging strewn around the living room floor.

It all gets stuffed into a big, black trash bag and, likely with a sigh of relief, the bag is toted right outside to the garbage bin.

But about 80 percent of what's typically thrown out during the holidays can be put into the recycling bin, said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for Republic Services, which provides trash pickup in Oakmont, Plum and Murrysville.

“With the hustle and bustle of Christmas day, for most people, recycling is not really top of mind. We've all been there,” Knocke said in an emailed statement. “This year, we want to encourage families to make recycling a part of their holiday tradition. It's a simple way to make a lasting difference in the local environment. … It can also potentially save families money by identifying items that can be reused or repurposed in a creative way.”

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Americans generate about 25 percent additional trash, which is about 1.2 million tons of more waste headed to the landfill, according to estimates from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“There's a lot more that can be recycled now due to changes in technology and advances in the process,” said Ellen Keefe, executive director of Westmoreland Cleanways, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect the environment.

Items such as cardboard boxes, including toy packaging; plastic; sales catalogs and newspapers can go into the recycling bin or be dropped off at a municipal collection site.

Determining which types of wrapping paper and gift bags can be recycled is a bit trickier.

The key is ensuring that they aren't wax-coated or dyed and don't have foil backing or embellishments.

“The bottom line is: It depends on which recycling options are available in our communities. Some communities have single-stream recycling that can take all kinds of paper,” Keefe said. “I would recommend that wrapping paper can be recycled. Put it in your bin, and if they can't use it, they'll take it out.”

If your community's recycler doesn't accept all types of paper, wrapping paper can be put in yellow-and-green Paper Retriever bins, Keefe said.

Other recyclable holiday items include: greeting cards that are foil-free and without glitter or embellishments, live Christmas trees and paper ribbon and bows. The traditional type of the latter isn't recyclable.

UPS stores accept bubble wrap and packing peanuts year-round.

“We reuse them,” said Michael Magrish, owner of The UPS Store on Freeport Road in O'Hara, not far from Fox Chapel Plaza.

“A lot of times, it's the same people who bring it in all year 'round,” he said. But he encourages more people to take advantage of the option because otherwise the non-recyclable items would end up in the landfill.

“It helps the environment,” Magrish said. “It's better to reuse it than throw it away.”

In Butler County, recycling actually can save customers money, said Sheryl Kelly, coordinator of the county's Department of Recycling and Waste Management.

“Most people have a choice of size of garbage service, and if you recycle, it could allow you to divert to the lower trash service,” she said. “The haulers set all those guidelines.”

And with many people likely to get new electronic gadgets, computers or televisions, Keefe reminds residents that state law requires old electronics to be recycled.

“Some people don't realize that until they have to throw a TV away and their garbage man doesn't take it,” she said.

Recycling options include, Westmoreland Cleanways, which will take electronics drop-offs by appointment on the weekdays; Goodwill accepts computers and accessories; and Best Buy takes three items a day, per customer.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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