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Deciding what is holiday trash or recyclables

The holiday season will leave many of us with plenty debris to deal with, so, here's what to toss and what to recycle.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The holidays leave plenty of refuse and recyclables. So, which is which? Marcus Lee from the City of San Antonio Solid Waste explained how to decide. First, all the gifts probably came in packaging.

“We want the cardboard boxes. They’re recyclable,” he said.

Be sure to flatten them first before putting them in the blue recycling carts. Do not over stuff the cart, though. Make sure the lid can close. The city won't take the packing materials inside the boxes.

“The Styrofoam, the packing peanuts and the bubble wrap,” said Lee.

Do not toss them in the trash. Some of the plastic packaging is recyclable. Just don't send it to the city, said Zachary Taylor with the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance.

“Wraps and air pillows that are so ubiquitous from e-commerce giants that are coming to your front door — most of that is plastic film that can be recycled conveniently, and easily, at your local retailer,” he said.

Here how to know if it can be recycled at stores that offer plastic bag recycling:

“What consumers need to look for is either it has the chasing arrows symbol we’re all familiar with,” Taylor said. “It’ll be a thin, stretchy kind of plastic. That’s a good sign that it can go back to the store with your bags. Alternatively, now there’s a small logo on it that actually says ‘take back to the store’ so consumers can be certain.”

There is also plenty of paper. Some is recyclable. Some is not.

“We want clean paper, clean, plain paper including newsprint,” said Lee. “The type of paper we can’t accept would be more like wrapping paper that has glitter or foil. Sometimes they come with a really heavy varnish gloss coating. Christmas cards have a lot of glitter. That’s that type of paper we do not want.”

Most holiday decorations cannot be recycled with the city.

“We can’t take a string of lights for example or ribbon or rope or cords,” said Lee. “We call those things ‘tanglers’ and they do exactly that. They get tangled into the machinery at the recycling plant. So we don’t want glass ornaments, again, anything with glitter or ribbon, tinsel. That’s just not recyclable.”

Most holiday plants can be recycled in the green organics cart.

“If you’re like me and you kill all of your holiday plants, like poinsettias, we’ll take them,” said Lee. “They’re organic, but take them out of the plastic pots, please.”

Do not put any glass, pottery or plastic in the green organics cart. You can put certain non-liquid food scraps from holiday meals in it.  Here is how to do it so it does not smell:

“We recommend you take some of the more simple things that you cook with and chop with like rinds and peels and shells and nuts and that type of stuff,” said Lee. “Put them in a plain brown paper bag with a little bit of shredded paper to absorb the moisture, roll that up tightly and that will be just fine in your green cart into your next collection day.”

The exception is live evergreen wreaths or garlands. The city does not want those.

“They’re held together with florist wire and that, of course, will not break down,” said Lee.

Live trees can be recycled at brush recycling centers. The city will turn them into mulch. Just be sure they are undecorated.

“All of the ornaments have to come off,” Lee said. “The stand has to come off.”

The holidays also bring plenty of plastics. Clean narrow-mouth plastic bottles and jars can be recycled.

“Rinse those out for us, please,” said Lee.

Hard plastics such as toys and storage containers are not accepted.

Electronics should go to the Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Centers.

The city lists what items are accepted or download the city’s free “recycle coach” app to find out more about what is recyclable and what is trash.

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