From the MRF: Appropriate recycling and disposal during the holidays

When recycling, how clean must your recyclable materials be? Do they have to be so clean that you can drink them from a glass jar or see through a mayonnaise container?

Are metal popcorn boxes recyclable? Can you recycle wrapping paper, holiday gift bags, or cards? Do you need to remove plastic windows from cartons or flatten them? Can single-use cups or forks be recycled? What about strands of Christmas lights?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these questions …

Recyclable materials should be rinsed before recycling, but they don’t need to be spotless. A quick rinse and a shake of most bottles and jars will do the trick. For stickier items like peanut butter, jelly, and mayonnaise, use a spatula to squeeze out as much product as possible before recycling. A small amount of residue will do no harm.

As a reminder, put the lids back on plastic containers before recycling. Throw all plastic lids from bottles or glass jars in the trash and recycle metal lids into crushed steel cans.

Popcorn cans are curbside recyclable if they are 128 oz or a gallon or less. Anything larger and they should be dropped off at a facility that accepts scrap metal such as the Portage County Transfer Facility. Most popcorn boxes are too large to be properly sorted by our equipment. Before recycling, remove all leftover cores and paper separators (all are waste).

When recycling other steel or tin cans, rinse them to remove the majority of residue and push the lids back into the cans. If not pushed back or left loose in the bin, these metal lids will fall through our sorting equipment and end up with our glass or paper and thrown out the mill. Labels and glue do not need to be removed. When steel cans are made into new steel, they are melted at temperatures above 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, incineration of labels and glue in the process.

Due to the very limited amount of recoverable fibers in packaging and tissue papers, they are not recyclable by our paper mills (even if they bear the arrow symbol or the words “recyclable”). When paper is recycled, the fibers get smaller and smaller to the point that they can no longer be captured and reused in new paper or board. Most wrapping and tissue papers are made from the shortest fibers. Many also contain small pieces of foil or plastic to make them sparkle and shine. These small pieces are very difficult to remove during the recycling process and are therefore not sought after by paper mills. Please dispose of all wrapping and tissue paper in the trash.

Holiday gift bags are reusable and recyclable. If recycling, remove all paperless handles before placing them in your sidewalk cart. Greeting cards and envelopes, if they are not on photo paper, can be recycled too! If the card is soaked in glitter, we ask that you throw this part in the trash as it is difficult for stationeries to remove glitter from the mix.

Much of the recycled paper here in Portage County is recycled into hand towels or toilet paper and no one except maybe a five or six year old wants to use glitter toilet paper.

Cartons should be broken down before placing them in your cart or bin. Before recycling, large plastic windows should be removed and thrown in the trash. Protective packaging such as molded plastic, styrofoam or twist ties should also be removed and thrown in the trash. Paper or molded cardboard can be recycled as long as it is flattened. Printed instructions or booklets are recyclable.

Single-use items are just that, single-use. If you don’t want to keep them and reuse them at the next gathering, you have to throw them in the trash. All cups, cutlery, bowls, plates, etc. single-use plastic is waste. Plates and paper napkins should also be thrown in the trash.

Glass bottles and jars are recyclable, please remove caps and caps and throw them in the trash before recycling the bottles. Any broken cups, plates or ornaments should all be thrown in the trash. These items are not compatible with glass bottles or jars.

Christmas light stands are not recyclable curbside items. They wrap around our sorting equipment, the same way hair wraps around the vacuum cleaner and causes costly downtime and inefficient sorting.

Strands of holiday lights and nets can be dropped off for recycling at any of the following locations through the end of January: Portage County Materials Salvage Facility in Plover, Old Town Center in Plover , Recycling Connections at Stevens Point (only leave the lights on if someone is there), Amherst Village Town Hall, Amherst Town Hall, Town Hall and Garage of the Town of Lanark or the Municipal Building of the Town of Hull.

As a reminder, when recycling do not place your recyclable materials in plastic bags. The materials stick and snag inside the bags, making it very difficult to remove them. Tied bags are difficult 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 get mixed up in the waste bin or cart.

As always, if you have any questions, call us at (715) 343-6297, visit us online at, or like us on Facebook facebook / PortageCountyRecycles.

Amanda Haffele is the solid waste manager for Portage County.