Fa la la la landfill: What happens to all of those holiday wrappings and frills once the new year rolls around?




Of all the nostalgic images that illustrate the holiday season—lights and puppies and families huddled around the fire in cheesy sweaters, mugs of hot cocoa safely in hand—there is one sight that’s generated much discussion about our civilization’s consumption habits in the 21st century: post-holiday waste. What do we do with all the leftover and unwanted stuff? What becomes of the old in “out with the old, in with the new?”

Every year, waste collectors and processing facilities see an influx in material that’s thrown out after the holidays. The blue bins are filled with crinkled bunches of wrapping paper to be recycled and an assortment of plastic things that may or may not actually be recyclable. Dried-up Christmas trees may be left on the curb beside the bins, or cut up and stuffed into the green waste container. And then there’s all the garbage.

We at New Times thought we’d see what the post-holiday waste stream looked like from the back end: the places where the unwanted detritus of holidays now over is made to disappear.

CURB TO COMPOST At Cold Canyon Processing Facility, roughly seven miles south of San Luis Obispo, a variety of waste from around the county is processed from start to finish. Recyclable material is sorted by workers on the conveyor belt line and then compacted, green waste (including Christmas trees) is ground up and collected by a composting company, and trash goes into the Cold Canyon Landfill. Facility Manager John Ryan said the facility sees a significant 8 to 9.5 percent increase in tonnage of material received during the overall holiday season, with particularly sharp increases during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as well as the two to three weeks after the new year commences. "We see a relatively large increase in the amount of cardboard, paper, 3-D containers, bottles and cans, and pretty much all of the typical holiday refuse you'd expect," Ryan told New Times. "Overall, you're looking at 200 to 400 tons more material per month, and we feel the impact of that."

RECYCLABLES ALL THE WAY DOWN Packed into a lot roughly the size of a city block, Brad Goodrow’s waste collection and processing facility is a bastion of recycling. The operation has three companies under one roof—Midstate Solid Waste and Recycling, North County Compost, and North County Recycling—all specializing in different aspects, including waste collection, consumer recyclables, the recycling of demolition and construction materials, green waste, and compost. Commingled recyclables are run through a disassembly line, where workers sort the materials before they are compressed, bailed, and shipped off to all over the world. Goodrow told New Times that they see about a 20 to 25 percent increase in materials after the holidays. He also said that during tough times like the recent recession, he’ll see a significant drop in the amount of bottles and cans received—at times up to a 70 reduction—which also means significant decline in revenue for the facility. Goodrow recently launched a composting facility in Creston, which is the only facility in the county that can accept food waste for composting. Christmas trees and most of the other green waste collected by the company will be ground with a huge electric grinder and trucked out to the compost facility.

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