Nashville Recycling Operations Get Busy, Thanks To All That Holiday Packaging

Dec 22, 2016

December is a busy month for recycling operations: In Nashville, the amount of paper that gets recycled is 20 percent higher than the rest of the year. 

The days after Christmas are the biggest culprits, says Sharon Smith with Metro Public Works.

"There's more of everything," she says. "People have had stuff mailed to them. Obviously, there's gift exchange."

Part of that spike comes from the influx of cardboard boxes. Part also comes from wrapping paper on gifts: Americans bought $7.5 billion dollars worth of it this year, according to Sundale Research.

But even though Metro's recycling service does accept most wrapping paper, some industry experts don't recommend it. Compared to normal paper, gift wrap is particularly low quality: It's thin and inky, so it's often more trouble than it's worth for a paper mill to extract the fibers.

"The ink diminishes the yield," says Bill Moore, a paper recycling consultant based in Atlanta. "It creates extra sludge when you process it, it requires additional chemicals, it's just really not the best recyclable paper."

Moore is himself an avid recycler who divides his paper waste into four separate streams.

So what would he do with wrapping paper?

"I'd throw it away," he says. 

Or, he reconsiders, "I might use it to start my fire."

And don't even bother recycling wrapping materials made with foil or plastic. Most collectors will not take it, including Metro Nashville.