Proper holiday recycling and disposal

by Amanda Haffele

Portage County Solid Waste Director

American households produce 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This includes everything from food waste, wrapping paper, discarded electronics, holiday decorations, packaging, and more. We get caught up in the fun and forget about the environmental impact the holidays can have. Below are a few reminders on proper disposal when gathering this holiday season.


How clean? As discussed last month, recyclables need to be rinsed before being recycled, but they don’t have to be spotless. A quick rinse and shake of most bottles and jars will do the trick. For stickier items such as peanut butter, jelly, and mayo, use a spatula to get as much product out as possible before recycling. A small amount of residue won’t hurt a thing. As a reminder, place lids back on plastic containers before recycling. Toss any plastic lids from glass bottles or jars in the trash and recycle metal lids inside crushed steel cans.


Popcorn and large tins. Popcorn tins are recyclable curbside if they are 128 oz. or 1 gallon in size or smaller. Anything larger and they need to be dropped off at a facility that accepts scrap metal such as the Portage County Transfer Facility. Most popcorn tins are too large to be properly sorted by equipment. Before recycling, remove any leftover kernels and paper dividers (all are trash). When recycling other steel or tin cans, rinse them to remove the majority of the residue, and push lids back in cans. If not pushed back in or left loose in the bin, these metal tops will fall through sorting equipment and end up with glass or paper and will be tossed by the mill. Labels and glue do not need to be removed. When steel cans get processed into new steel, they’re melted at temperatures upwards of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, incinerating labels and glue in the process.


Wrapping paper. Due to the very limited amount of recoverable fibers in wrapping and tissue paper, they are unrecyclable by our paper mills (even if it has the chasing arrows symbol or “recyclable” on it). When paper gets recycled, the fibers get smaller and smaller to a point where they can no longer be captured and reused in new paper or cardboard. Most wrapping and tissue papers are made from the shortest fibers. Many also contain small pieces of foil or plastic to make them shimmer and shine. These small pieces are very difficult to remove during the recycling process and therefore are not wanted by the paper mills. Please toss all wrapping and tissue paper in the trash.


Gift bags and cards. Holiday gift bags are reusable and recyclable. If recycling, remove any non-paper handles before placing them in your curbside cart. Holiday cards and envelopes, if they are not on photo paper, can be recycled as well! If the card is drenched in glitter, we ask that you toss that portion into the trash as it’s difficult for paper mills to remove glitter from the mix. Much of the paper recycled here in Portage County gets recycled into hand paper towels or toilet paper and no one, except maybe a 5- or 6-year-old, wants to use glittery toilet paper.


Cardboard boxes and packaging. Cardboard boxes need to be broken down before placing them in your cart or bin. Before recycling, large plastic windows should be removed and tossed into the trash. Protective packaging such as molded plastic, Styrofoam, or twist ties need to be removed and tossed into the trash as well. Molded paper or cardboard can be recycled as long as it has been flattened; a few good foot stomps should do the trick. Paper directions or booklets are recyclable.

Single-use items. Single-use items are just that, single use. If you don’t want to save and reuse them at the next gathering, then they should be disposed of in the trash. All plastic single-use cups, silverware, bowls, plates, etc., are trash. Paper plates and napkins need to go into the trash as well.


Glass. Glass bottles and jars are recyclable. Please remove corks and caps and toss those into the trash before recycling the bottles. Any broken cups, plates, or ornaments all need to be thrown into the trash. These items are not compatible with glass bottles or jars.


Holiday lights. Strands of holiday lights are not a curbside recyclable item. They wrap around sorting equipment, similar to how hair wraps around the vacuum cleaner, causing expensive shutdowns and inefficient sorting. Strands of holiday lights and netting can be dropped off for recycling at one of the following locations through the end of January: the Portage County Material Recovery Facility in Plover, Veterans Memorial Park parking lot in the Village of Plover, City of Stevens Point Public Drop-off, Recycling Connections in Stevens Point, the Village of Amherst Village Hall, Village of Whiting Village Hall, Town of Amherst Town Hall, Town of Hull Municipal Building, or Town of Pine Grove Municipal Building.


As a reminder, when recycling, do not place your recyclables in plastic bags. Materials stick and catch on the inside of bags making it very difficult to remove them. Tied bags are hard to open and may hide broken glass or sharp edges that can harm your service provider or our employees. Instead, use paper bags or nothing at all. Let everything mingle in the bin or cart loose.

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call at (715) 343-6297, visit us online at, or like us on Facebook at Portage County Recycles.

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