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The Athens-Hocking Recycling Center in Athens, Ohio, sifts through loads of recyclables in the beginning of a work shift for its employees. (FILE)

Officials, students discuss waste, sustainability around the holiday season

As Thanksgiving passes and students graduate, it appears it’s gift-giving season once again.

According to the Ohio EPA, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holidays as well as 33% more food. However, things tend to slow down waste-wise in Athens this time of year, Crissa Cummings, office assistant at the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, said.

“Typically students go home about now,” Cummings said. “This year is gonna be a little different. We’re not sure what to expect.”

Recycling during the holiday season is important because there is a greater accumulation of waste both in food, paper and other recyclables, Emma Linn, a senior studying urban planning and sustainability, said in an email. 

“Especially during the holiday season, you see an increase in food waste, glass, paper, cardboard and other materials that consumers typically purchase to wrap their gifts for the holidays,” Linn, events coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said.

Cummings said what people wrap their gifts in matters; most wrapping paper is recyclable, she said, but not if it contains metallic paint or tissue paper. However, the recycling center’s biggest contaminant is plastic bags. Recycling materials in bags cannot be recycled, she said.

“We accept paper bags in the mixed recycling,” Cummings said. “Any recycling that comes to us in (plastic) bags gets thrown away. It doesn’t even get opened; it gets thrown in the trash. (People) need to make sure recycling is loose in the bin.”

Other contaminants including special recycling items, such as clothes, batteries and electronics, can be dropped off at the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center’s office at 5991 Industrial Drive. A popular recyclable this time of year is Christmas lights, Cummings said. 

On Monday, Nov. 30, Ohio University’s Office of Sustainability hosted a Virtual Sustainable Gift Giving Workshop on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Using the hashtags #OHIOSustainableGiftGiving and #OHIOupcycledgift, the office shared information on holiday waste and upcycle craft ideas.

“There are plenty of ways for people to reduce their waste during this holiday season,” Linn said in an email. “Reducing the waste that you accumulate through gift-giving can be a little daunting, however it is a great opportunity to get creative.”

Allison Shyrock, a senior studying environmental studies and geography, said other packaging materials waste increases this time of year. Shyrock, social media and marketing coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, helped organize Monday’s event.

“Supporting local businesses (is) a great way to (reduce packaging waste); many have sustainable packaging options for shipping and you’re supporting your community,” Shyrock said in an email. “If you’re online shopping, check for sustainable packaging options; having items shipped in one box, none of the plastic air packs that are included in a lot of boxes.”

Cummings, Linn and Shyrock all agree that composting is a great way to handle food waste this time of year. Despite the prospect of leftovers, Linn recommends only taking what will be eaten.

Cummings also said artificial Christmas trees cannot be recycled; however, real trees are sometimes picked up by the city of Athens for free, other times donated to a goat farm via the center. Real trees that are recycled must be free of ornaments and sprays.

Plastics one through five that are marked recyclable are recyclable, Cummings said. Ornaments, on the other hand, though usually made of plastic, more often contain plastic polymers that cannot be recycled.

But one valuable recyclable sees an increase this time of year: cardboard. 

“There tends to be an increase in online shopping during this time,” Cummings said. “We do want all the cardboard. It’s pretty valuable all of the time, particularly right now. It’s used to make toilet paper.”

The Ohio EPA recommends reducing waste by a number of means: e-cards, reusing packaging, re-gifting, buying “experiences,” such as event tickets, memberships or gift cards, composting and more.  

Both Linn and Shyrock mentioned re-gifting as well as upcycling to reduce waste and save money. To Shyrock, sustainability should always be kept in mind when making purchases for the holiday season.

“A home-made gift can sometimes mean a lot more than a store-bought one,” Shyrock said in an email. “I like to give gifts in reusable bags so that the person can reuse it, too. I like to shop at local businesses, too. Sustainable gift-giving doesn’t have to be perfect, but individual actions can make a difference!”


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