P.E.I. Waste Watch holiday primer: What goes where after the presents are opened

Just when you think you've got P.E.I.'s Waste Watch system mastered, Christmas comes along but once a year just to confuse you.

Christmas comes but once a year, and that's why it's easy to forget how to sort the holiday trash

Where do all the wrapping paper, ribbon, twine, turkey bones and oyster shells go in P.E.I.'s Waste Watch system? (CBC)

So you think you've got P.E.I.'s Waste Watch system mastered.

Then Christmas comes along but once a year to confuse you. The wrapping paper goes in the compost, but what about the tape? The stiff plastic containers electronics and toys come in — is it waste or recyclable plastic? 

We talked with Island Waste management's Disposal Manager Heather Myers for the lowdown on holiday trash.

The picking line at IWMC's Central Compost Facility in Brookfield. (Submitted by IWMC)

"At this time of year, the biggest gift you can give to the environment is to simply reduce the waste you produce," Myers said. 

"And when disposing of material, sort properly. When in doubt, check it out. It makes a huge difference!"

According to Myers, there are several common holiday mistakes.

1. Wrapping paper goes in compost

The first mistake many folks make is putting wrapping paper in the blue bag to be recycled — it goes in compost, tape and all.

"If you want to take it off, it's great, but it might be asking a bit much on Christmas day," said Myers.

"We accept that it is going to be a contaminant ... hopefully the larger pieces will get screened out."

Foil-type wrapping paper goes into the garbage. 

2. Christmas cards go in compost

Christmas greeting cards go in the compost, not a blue bag. If they have batteries, reminds Myers, remove them and properly dispose of them separately in a bin at the grocery store or at a Waste Watch drop-off centre. 

3. Boxboard goes in compost

Most gift boxes are made from boxboard (like a cereal box), not corrugated cardboard (the kind with the wavy paper sandwiched between two layers), and go in the compost, not a blue bag. 

If you're lucky enough to get shoes for Christmas — those are boxboard. 

4. Styrofoam is waste

Many people leave Styrofoam in cardboard boxes to be sorted and recycled. "It must be removed from the cardboard box and put into waste," said Myers. 

5. Wreaths go in waste

Wreaths shouldn't be thrown in the compost unless the wire form has been removed. Wreaths should go in the waste, unless you want to separate the greenery (compost) from the metal form (blue bag with glass and plastics), or hang on to the form for next year.

"Quite a few come in with the compost, and they can do damage to the equipment at the composting facility in Brookfield," Myers said. 


From A to Z, here's a guide to what goes where after the gifts are gone

  • Artificial Christmas trees: waste.
  • Batteries: accepted for recycling at some businesses and at IWMC in amounts less than 5 kg. Myers advises taping the ends of batteries with masking, duct or electrical tape or putting each one in a separate bag.
  • Bones: compost.
  • Bows: waste.
  • Branches: compost.
  • Brita water filters: did you know they fall under a separate recycling program? Ship them back to the company for free, here.
  • Broken glass (from ornaments, wine glass mishaps, broken casserole dishes, etc.): waste.
  • Candle wax: compost.
  • Candles with wicks: waste.
  • Candy, including chocolate: compost.
  • Catalogues (even if they are shiny paper): in the blue bag with paper.
  • Cellphones: Get a new one as a gift? Old ones do not go in the waste. Most electronics retailers will accept them free for a recycling program or you can mail them to the Recycle My Cell program.
  • Chewing gum: waste.
  • Christmas lights: go in a blue bag with plastics, not in the waste. Remove the bulbs and take them to IWMC for the free Light Recycle program.
  • Christmas trees: place them curbside before Jan. 8 by 7 a.m. IWMC will pick up trees throughout the week, but are not able to tell customers specifically which day their tree will be taken. Make sure all ornaments, tinsel and wire are removed. Trees longer than eight feet or heavier than 50 lbs. must be cut in half. Click here for more guidelines. You can also take trees to a Waste Watch drop-off centre for free. 
  • Clementine boxes or crates: waste.
  • Clothing: donate or place in waste. Same for shoes.
  • Corrugated cardboard boxes: collapsed flat and bundled for pickup with your blue bags. 
  • Cosmetic and personal care items: since items like aftershave, makeup, contact lens solution and others may contain hazardous waste, they should be dropped off at an IWMC disposal site free of charge. Myers advises people store up a box of light bulbs, paint cans, batteries and take the load when it is full.
  • Greeting cards: compost.
  • Liquor bottles (including wine, beer and spirits): in a blue bag with plastics and glass, or returned to a deposit refund depot for cash.
  • Nut shells: compost.
  • Ornaments and tinsel: waste.
  • Plastic wrap: waste.
  • Ribbon: waste.
  • Shells (including oyster, clam, and lobster): compost.
  • Take-out trays: fibre ones favoured by coffee shops can be recycled in a blue bag with other paper, while the Styrofoam type go in the waste.
  • Twine: waste.
  • Wine corks: real corks go in compost, plastic ones in waste.
  • Wrapping paper: paper wrap goes in compost. Foil type goes in waste. Gift bags: if they are paper, rip the twine handles off. The bag goes in compost, twine goes in waste.
  • Wreaths: waste, unless you separate greenery (compost) from metal wreath form (blue bag with plastic and glass).
  • Ziploc bags: waste, because there's no recycling number one to five on the packaging. "They should all have these symbols, but they don't," said Myers. "It's very frustrating."

For more, check out Waste Watch Guidelines, or call Island Waste Management's toll-free line 1-888-280-8111.

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