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Rockin’ around the Christmas trash: A guide to recycling your holiday waste


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Perhaps the worst part of Christmas is the inevitable clean-up afterwards: the mountain of empty boxes, shredded wrapping paper, string lights with burnt-out bulbs and the tree slowly going from beloved holiday symbol to fire hazard. But before you toss it all into the dumpster or stuff it into a garbage can, consider these ways to recycle, compost and minimize holiday waste.

To begin with, it’s worth noting that gift wrap shouldn’t go into Iowa City recycling bins. Traditional gift-wrapping isn’t recyclable because of the plastic, metal and glitter additives to the paper, Iowa City Recycling Coordinator Jane Wilch told Little Village.

But old strings of holiday lights that no longer twinkle merrily or are impossibly tangled are recyclable. Until Jan. 9, unwanted strings of holiday lights can be dropped in Iowa City at the East Side Recycling Center, the South Riverside Recycling Center and the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. In Coralville, the lights can be dropped at city hall and the Coralville Recreation Center, as well as both of Coralville’s Hy-Vees and Stuff Etc.

“If you have a natural unflocked holiday tree that once the holiday is over, you’re looking to dispose of, we do recommend composting that,” Wilch said.

Iowa City curbside recycling customers should put their tree at the curb by 7 a.m. on their collection day. And it should be just the tree — no decorations or lights, no putting the no-longer-entirely-green evergreen in a plastic bag.

Other residents in Johnson County, or those that don’t have the curbside collection service, can bring their tree to the compost facility at the Iowa City Landfill at no cost. The compost facility also accepts organic material like yard waste and food.

Artificial trees, however, are landfill fodder. You’ll have to schedule a collection time by calling 319-356-5151, and collection costs $12.50.

“We would recommend if it’s an artificial tree that’s still in good shape to look at donation options,” Wilch said.

With parties, gift giving and big family meals, the holidays can turn your home into the inside of Mount Crumpit, and it’s easy for things that can’t be recycled to get mixed in with the recyclables. Wilch recommends double checking what materials get tossed into the recycling bin.

“If we can keep recycling contamination low, that makes it so recycling successfully gets recycled,” she said.

Courtesy of Iowa City Recycling

The holidays are also great at generating leftovers. If you’re struggling to create meals out of leftover ingredients, check out the website SuperCook. The city also has a freezing guide that shows how long food will last in the freezer. More information is available online in the Iowa City Division of Resource Management’s 12 Days of Waste Reduction.

“The other tip I would give to you is to be mindful of what the sell by, or best by, or use by dates mean. Those for most items, basically anything except for baby formula, refer to quality, not safety,” Wilch said. “Even if you pass a sell by date, it does not necessarily mean that the food has gone bad.”

Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on Saturdays this year, so garbage, recycling and organics will be collected normally on Dec. 23, Dec. 24, and Dec. 31. The Landfill and Recycling Center will close early at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, and will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s.


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