Get wrapped up in recycling As holidays approach, experts say think of how to dispose of packaging

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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If visions of sugarplums are eclipsed in your mind by visions of wrapping paper, bows and plastic packaging piled in your living room the day after Christmas, you can tackle the mess before it’s even made.

The best way to do that is to carefully consider what you buy, said Rob Guttridge, a Clark County waste reduction specialist. That’s because what you buy creates trash.

Vancouver area households generated 24,227 extra cans of garbage in three weeks around the holidays last year.

“This time of year isn’t about getting a lot of stuff. It’s about spreading holiday cheer and letting other people know that you care about them. If you’re thinking about giving gifts, it can be gifts of your time or gifts of experience,” Guttridge said. “As a waste reduction strategy, I suggest thinking about what you want to show with the gift.”

When you buy an item, keep an eye on the packaging, much of which can’t be recycled, he said. Cardboard boxes can go in your roll cart for recyclables. You can drop block foam at the county’s monthly collection events. But plastic clamshells and bubble wrap can’t be recycled.

Here are some other tips from Clark County Solid Waste:

n Choose wrapping carefully.

Put the gift in a reusable bag, or wrap it with newspaper or old calendars. Foil wrapping paper may be shiny and pretty, but it cannot be recycled. Regular wrapping paper can. You can reuse bows, but they can’t go in your recycling roll cart.

n Sort as you go.

“Whenever the presents get unwrapped, try to make a separation, and not just stuff everything in a plastic garbage bag or in the recycling,” Guttridge said. Bubble wrap, plastic bags and gobs of tape should not go in the big blue recycling bin. They will tangle the machines that sort recyclables, Guttridge said.

n Untrim your tree.

You can put your tree out with yard debris or leave it for the Boy Scouts’ to pick up during collection events (Jan. 2 or Jan 9, depending on where you live), but be sure to remove all the decorations, including tinsel. Don’t flock your tree if you want to recycle it, Guttridge said.

n Stack up block foam.

Block foam will be collected from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 2 in the Yellow No. 1 parking lot at Clark College. If you intend to drop off foam, make it part of other errands and offer to take your neighbors’ foam to make it worth the gas.

n New electronics?

If you received a new computer for Christmas, you can donate your old one to CREAM (Computer Reuse, Education and Marketing) at 5000 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. CREAM recycles or refurbishes discarded computers. For more information, call 360-735-0888 or visit upgradeyourcommunity.org. CREAM does not take TVs, however. Goodwill accepts them. Visit the Recycling A-Z guide on clark.wa.gov for more information.

n Weigh your efforts.

Although transfer stations accept pieces of mixed plastics, it takes a lot to make the trip worthwhile, Guttridge said. “Some people will make an extra trip to go to the transfer station, and use a gallon or two of gasoline getting them there,” he said. “It’s better to put bulky mixed plastic in the garbage. Be thoughtful about this. Recycling is not an absolute.”