It almost seems like a given: more holiday fun creates more holiday trash—but it does not have to.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American households produce 25 percent more waste than usual during the six-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, culminating in over six million additional tons of garbage in the nation’s landfills.
The waste comes primarily from increased food waste, gift wrap and product packaging.
“I’m sure (people) know that their trash bins or recycling bins are overflowing a whole lot more than they normally do,” said Sheela Backen, trash and recycling coordinator for Colorado State University facilities management. “But, they don’t really think about (the waste)—where it goes or anything else.”
While overall waste collected by CSU decreases during the holiday season due to many students leaving campus, Backen said there was still a noticeable amount of trash made by students staying in the university apartments within the last few years. International students who might not celebrate the same winter holidays do not produce nearly as much trash as their American counterparts, according to Backen.
Honore Depew, the environmental planner for the City of Fort Collins, wrote in an email to the Collegian that the average Fort Collins resident produced 4.65 pounds of waste per day in 2015, with 3.13 pounds of that going to landfills.
While the waste disposal data the City collects from private trash haulers does not allow for analysis of seasonal waste increase or decrease, Fort Collins tries to prevent the numbers from going up during the holiday season, according to Depew.
The City website has multiple guidelines for waste reduction specific to holiday traditions.
According to Fort Collins Environmental Services, 23 percent of household waste is discarded food and that amount goes up during the holidays. To minimize food waste, the City recommends planning out meals ahead of time, sending leftovers home with dinner guests and composting food scraps among other things.
When it comes to gifts, Energy Engineer for CSU facilities Carol Dollard suggested focusing more on gifting consumables or experiences like concert tickets instead of just “a thing that’s going to sit on the shelf.”
“The thing to remind people … is to sort of back up in your present-buying experience and think about what you’re buying in terms of packaging and—honestly, is it even something the people need?” Dollard said.
When wrapping the present, Dollard recommends using recyclable scrap paper or reusable cloth or gift bags.
The amount of waste going to landfills can also be reduced through recycling.
“It’s not hard to (recycle holiday waste) if you pay attention a little bit,” Dollard said. “But, sometimes when you’re cleaning up after Christmas morning, you just wad all the paper in one big box and throw the whole box away, which is like, really?”
Dollard said recycling holiday waste requires people to pay some attention because of the limitations on what can and cannot be recycled.
Holiday recycling guidelines provided by the City say wrapping paper, tissue paper and cardboard should all be recycled in curbside bins. In fact, it is illegal to put recyclable cardboard into the waste stream. Stickers and tape do not have to be removed from the cardboard.
However, any paper with metallic foil or glitter cannot be recycled, nor can ribbons or bows.
Styrofoam, packing peanuts, cooking oil, batteries, plastic bags, holiday lights, extension cords and electronics can be reused or recycled when taken to the proper facilities, such as the Timberline Recycling Center located at 1903 S. Timberline Rd. or Larimer County Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at 5887 S. Taft Hill Rd. Citizens are not allowed to put those items in curbside recycling bins.
Old Christmas trees can also be recycled Dec. 26 through Jan. 15 at various drop-off locations.
Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @samxye4.