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Wisconsin DNR encourages people to be mindful of their holiday waste


Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows are all in abundance this time of year.

The Wisconsin DNR wants to see as much of it as possible properly disposed of.

Most of it comes down to knowing what can and can’t be recycled.

“We know that recycling can be confusing,” said Jennifer Semrau, DNR Waste Reduction and Diversion Coordinator.

Your basics like cardboard, plastic containers, and glass bottles can all go in your recycling bin.

But Semrau says things like wrapping paper can be a bit more complicated.

“Wrapping paper that is simply tearable paper with no glitter or foil or other adornments can generally be recycled versus this foil wrap that can’t be torn. A common reason that many recycling programs do say, ‘No wrapping paper at all’ is because people will tend to include all of the bows and ribbons and the like with their wrapping paper,” she said.

Semrau also says you shouldn’t recycle wrapping paper if you crunch it up into a ball. All paper products need to be flat to be recycled.

It mostly comes down to how the machines sort and process recyclables.

Sarah Murray is the DNR E-Cycle Wisconsin Coordinator.

What she calls “tanglers” can cause serious problems at recycling facilities.

“We call them this because they’re materials that can get wound up in the recycling equipment causing it to break or causing a facility to shut down to cut material loose,” said Murray. “A big one this time of year of course is holiday lights. You pull out string lights and realize it no longer works. Don’t put that in your recycling bin or cart because when it gets to the facility it’s very easy for the light string to get wrapped up in the equipment.”

For the same reason, tissue paper, plastic bags, and plastic film shouldn’t go in your recycling bin either.

Just because you can’t put them in the bin, doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled at all.

Some businesses will offer string light recycling this time of year.

You can also contact your local recycling facility to see if they accept these items by drop-off.

Overall, what you can recycle can vary by location. Check out the DNR’s information on recycling here.

In addition to material waste, the Wisconsin DNR also wants you to be mindful of your food waste.

A 2020 study conducted by Penn State estimated households lose $1,866 a year on food that's thrown out.

With holiday parties and special recipes, food waste can pile up this time of year.

DNR Solid Waste Coordinator Casey Lamensky says households are the largest generator of food waste in landfills.

“While food waste might not seem like the most concerning item to put in the landfill, landfills are designed specifically to put out air and oxygen,” she said. “Meaning that food waste that breaks down in the landfill generates methane, the greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.”

There are a few things you can do to reduce your food waste.

Lamensky recommends shopping with a plan. Buying more food than needed often leads to food waste.

Storing food properly can also lead to it lasting longer.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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