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Don't trash Christmas!

Christmas recycling by Cathy Harmon, Woodinville Recycling Coordinator
Did you know that Christmas produces more garbage than any other time of year?
   The ideals of recycling and producing less garbage seem to fly out the window when shoppers are faced with brilliant store displays, fabulously wrapped gifts, and eager-to-shred-packaging children.
   But with a little advance planning, you can make Christmas cleanup a lot easier on you and your loved ones, and teach youngsters valuable lessons about caring for the environment.

"Pre-cycling" your Christmas tree
   "Pre-cycling" means buying things that can be recycled or re-used. Your Christmas tree will be the largest disposable item of the season.
   Consider a permanent tree. They do not shed needles, do not need to be watered, and a one-time investment can save money in just a few short years. You can even decorate it with ornaments made from recycled materials.
   If you must have a live tree, please plan to recycle it. Both Boy Scouts and the King County Solid Waste Division will be accepting trees to be recycled this January. Please donate to any non-profit group that performs this community service, as it does cost them money.
   Most opportunities to recycle trees come in the first two weeks of January. If you keep your tree up longer than that, you may have to drive a longer distance or pay more money to recycle it. If you subscribe to curbside yard waste recycling, your recycler will pick up the tree.
   Christmas trees are composted, and must be free of tinsel, metals, plastic, and flocking. Re-think the need to flock your tre--the entire tree becomes garbage and takes up space in a landfill.
   Tinsel can be difficult to remove from your tree: Is it worth it? Try to get the metal ornament hangers off the branches, so you can use them again next year.

Give the gift of recycling
   Beautiful packaging is the joy and pain of Christmas. What children shred on their way to the next toy, parents must clean up and ultimately pay for.
   Realize how expensive all that extra packaging is, and that you pay for it in the price of a product. Send presents in permanent gift bags or boxes that can be used over and over. Save and re-use the bags you receive.
   If you are mailing a package, use wrapped hard candy or shredded paper in place of plastic peanuts. See if you and your family can wrap all your gifts without buying wrapping paper. Be creative: Use the Sunday comics, or make wrapping paper using paint, rubber stamps, brown paper bags, or old newspaper.
   The best gifts are those that reduce garbage in the future. Try beautiful cloth napkins and tablecloths, battery rechargers, compost bins or worm bins, long-lasting fluorescent interior light bulbs to replace incandescent ones, baby diaper services, mesh produce bags for grocery shopping (they keep veggies fresher longer than plastic bags), food canisters that allow buying in bulk, gift certicates, and of course, the gift of your time and services.
   Buy things that will last and reduce the need for disposable items.

Close the loop: Buy recycled.
    You are not really recycling until you buy recycled products.
   Start with recycled wrapping paper. Then consider recycled-content stationery or glass containers. Office supply stores carry high-quality recycled computer disks.
   Many fleece products and clothing are made from recycled plastic: fleece jackets made from recycled pop bottles (Patagonia makes them, REI stocks them), shirts, hats, and even tennis shoes.
   Garden hoses and doormats are made from recycled tires. Many books on the environment are printed on recycled paper. Until products are purchased with recycled content, all we have is well-sorted garbage.

Dealing with the aftermath: Can Christmas wrap be recycled?
   All that Christmas wrap is beautiful, but can it be recycled?
   With a little effort, you can recycle much of it as Mixed Paper. Remember only the paper and cardboard can be recycled; everything else is a contaminant.
   The recycling companies have some screens that can remove tape, but the less the better. The cleaner the paper, the more valuable the product that can be made from it.
   Metal and foil are contaminants. Do not recycle foil wrap or metallic tape, but "gold ink" on wrapping paper is fine.
   Also, please do not use wrapping paper that cannot be recycled. The gifts are more than just the gifts: the bows, ribbons, and bags can be used again and again.
   Cardboard and shoe boxes go in the Mixed Paper bin. Most Christmas cards can be recycled, unless they have plastic on them. Many mailbox and postal stores will take peanuts, but call them and check before you drop by. Challenge your children to make as little garbage as they can.
   If you do end up with an overflowing garbage can, you can set out an extra bag of garbage for $2.50, added to your next garbage bill. In the long run, it is cheaper to have less garbage service and occasionally pay for an extra bag, than to pay for a garbage can that is half-empty most of the time.
   Christmas is a wonderful time to share with the family. The legacy we leave our children should not be one of landfills overflowing with Christmas garbage.
   A little effort by everyone adds up to a much cleaner environment. Think of it as a Christmas gift to the future.