After all the holiday gifts are unwrapped, a familiar scene emerges—piles of giftwrap, packaging materials, boxes, ribbons and cards.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans produce about 25 percent more trash, $11 billion worth of packing material and 15 million discarded Christmas trees, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.
So for cities and towns that provide trash pickup, the holidays can be a heavy lift. But despite the increased load of garbage generated during this season, municipal maintenance and sanitation employees work hard to maintain normal pickup schedules—no elves required.
The City of Goose Creek maintains its regular schedule and treats Christmas trees and other holiday waste as normal yard debris, according to City Administrator Jake Broom. During times of high volume, the city shifts some crews from its maintenance division over to its sanitation division to help keep up with the regular schedule.
"We take a lot of pride in not letting periods of high volume throw us off schedule," said Broom. "And we try to provide the most consistent, dependable service possible to our residents."
The City of Clinton handles holiday garbage just as it would any other pick up, said City Manager Frank Stovall.
The city encourages residents to recycle and reuse if possible. However, Clinton does not have a curbside recycling program, so residents must go to the central recycling facility. If the waste can fit into the garbage can and is not a natural item, like a live tree, then Clinton officials ask residents to put the material in the garbage can. If it doesn’t fit in the can and is a manmade item, like a large box, then it should be placed curbside for pick up by the grapple truck, Stovall said. The city runs a separate grapple truck for natural debris like limbs and live trees, so those items should be placed curbside as well, he said.
The Town of Batesburg-Leesville collects residents’ Christmas trees as long as they are placed curbside. They are collected, taken to the town landfill and mulched by the town. Trimmings, boxes and wrapping paper are placed in roll carts by residents and are taken away with the regular trash pickup service, according to Public Works Supervisor David Padgett.
There are ways to lighten the load for both city landfills and the environment as a whole.
Samantha Yager, recycling coordinator for the City of Columbia, said that since the city switched from recycling bins to roll carts, the amount of recycled materials has increased 38 percent, while garbage has decreased 11 percent.
"Historically, the holidays are always a high-volume time for both recycling and garbage," she said. "So this year, we’d really love to see the garbage continue to go down by recycling more."
The city’s cooking oil recycling program also experiences a spike in donations around the winter holidays, as families, friends and work colleagues gather for rich meals at homes, restaurants and office parties. In Columbia, recycling the cooking oil not only keeps pipes from getting clogged but also helps fuel the city’s diesel trucks.