What to recycle, what to toss after the holidays

The holiday season often brings with it a surge of garbage, contributing to an increase in the overall volume of discarded material around this time of year.

It is a perfect storm of excess waste, and D.C. leaders say where it goes matters.

“The volume increases significantly,” said John Johnson, with D.C.’s public works department. “All the boxes, toys, food and all those materials ultimately have to go somewhere.”

Johnson said the more people can recycle, the better.

Containers including cartons, cans and pie tins can be recycled — however, Johnson urges everyone to wash or scrape them off if they have food waste in them.

Cardboard boxes should be recycled, but they should be flattened beforehand.

“If you have some toy packaging, particularly those with heavy cardboard and plastic windows, the plastic needs to be removed before you can actually recycle those kinds of things,” Johnson said.

Gift exchanges over the holidays result in a ton of packaging material waste, such as wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and plastic packaging.

As people unwrap their gifts, the material accumulates quickly and significantly adds to household waste.

The emphasis on elaborate and decorative packaging makes the issue worse, as non-recyclable materials become a substantial part of the waste that piles up. Ribbon and tissue paper should be discarded, not recycled, for example.

“When it comes to wrapping paper, standard paper should be recycled,” Johnson said. “Anything with glitter or foil belongs in the trash, or you can save it for next year.”

Johnson recommended a “tear test.”

In other words, if you can tear it in half easily, you can recycle it. But if it is reinforced with plastic or foil, it should be put in the garbage instead.

“Another thing I think a lot of people have some issues or confusion around is if you have some old string lights that have seen better days, you can recycle those as well,” Johnson said.

The city collects unwanted electronic equipment twice a month at RFK Stadium.

Residents can dispose of items such as unwanted string lights and batteries at those events.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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