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Disposing of holiday waste

Although this year’s holiday celebrations may look different from the past, holiday waste is still likely to accumulate. Local waste and recycling departments have a few tips on disposing of that material.
Crews from FortisAlberta chip live Christmas trees collected at the Airdrie Recycle Depot. File Photo/Airdrie City View

Although this year’s holiday celebrations may look different from the past, holiday waste is still likely to accumulate. Local waste and recycling departments have a few tips on disposing of that material.

“Our message is always to try and encourage our residents to utilize the three separate streams that we do have,” said Susan Grimm, team leader with the City of Airdrie's Waste and Recycling Services. “At this time of the year especially, when you’re having your holiday dinner, using your organics bin for leftovers and table scraps and carcasses.”

Knowing which stream of collection – garbage, curbside recycling or curbside organics – items belong in can be tricky, Grimm said. In general, any questions about how to dispose of a particular item can be easily answered using the City of Airdrie’s “Where Does It Go” search engine on

In Rocky View County, the matter can become even more complex, according to Jennifer Koole, lead solid waste advisor. This is because residents in different areas of the county receive different levels of waste services.

The County owns and operates three transfer sites, which also offer recycling and in some cases, organics collection. RVC also partners with neighbouring municipalities like Airdrie to allow access for residents to those transfer sites and recycle depots.

At some sites in the county, chuckwagons – or mobile recycling bins – are available for use. In other areas, the County or homeowners associations provide curbside pickup for recycling and organics.

According to Koole, is the best way to find out what services are available to them depending on where they live.

While knowing how to dispose of holiday waste can be challenging, everything belongs in either the garbage, recycling or organics stream. Grimm and Koole provided some tips to help residents dispose of material properly.

Packaging is just one category of waste that tends to increase at this time of year, and because of the pandemic, municipalities are seeing an increase in online shopping result in additional waste.

Grimm said items like cardboard boxes can be recycled in blue carts or at recycle depots, as can plastic that might be included in a package. Mixed material packaging, like padded envelopes, must be thrown in the garbage, she said.

One good tip to keep in mind when sorting, Grimm said, is to keep an eye out for a recycling triangle symbol on items. If it’s present, the item can go in blue carts; if not, it must be thrown out.

Anyone with access to the Airdrie Recycle Depot can also drop off Styrofoam packaging. Grimm said. Styrofoam must be free of tape, and no coloured Styrofoam or packing peanuts are accepted.

“We’re one of very few municipalities – I believe only the Town of Cochrane accepts Styrofoam packaging as well,” she said.

Christmas day generates additional waste, Koole said, as families open gifts. While cardboard boxes and wrapping paper can be recycled, other things like bows and ribbons cannot be. Those items should be stripped from recyclables and either reused or thrown away. One tip Koole provided is sorting items as you unwrap gifts, saving you time later when you go to dispose of garbage.

“It’s best to keep products as pure as they can be in terms of their majority constituents,” Koole said. “So if it’s mainly paper, try and make sure it’s only paper and then put it in the recycling bin. If it’s mainly plastics that we know can be recycled – containers and things – make sure that the extra labels are taken off, or bows or ribbons.”

Food waste is also likely to increase during the holidays. Both Grimm and Koole said even though current restrictions prevent large family meals, people will still probably cook some special meal to enjoy with their household.

Koole said one tip to prevent food waste is to plan ahead.

“Adjust the volume of food that you’re going to be preparing according to the number of people you intend to serve,” she said.

If you do end the holidays with too much food, Koole said eating leftovers in the ensuing days or freezing food for later can keep it out of the garbage. Any food waste that simply cannot be eaten should be placed in green bins or taken to drop-off centres that collect food organics.

Vegetable matter can also be put in backyard or farm compost, but Koole noted meat products, bones, oils and greases cannot be composted.

In Airdrie, meanwhile, Grimm said anything off the table can be placed in the organics stream.

“There’s not a food item that cannot go in your green bin,” she said.

Disposable cutlery and plates may pose a challenge. Pure paper plates can be composted, but Grimm noted cutlery must be thrown in the garbage regardless of material, as it is too light to be sorted at waste facilities.

Once the holidays are over, it will be time to discard your live Christmas tree. Both municipalities will offer some form of tree collection.

In Airdrie, the City will once again be collecting live Christmas trees at the Recycle Depot. The trees can only be dropped off during operating hours, she said, and must be stripped of all decorations, lights, tinsel and tree bags. Trees will be accepted until Jan. 15.

“We’ve been partnering for years with FortisAlberta, who donates their time to do the tree chipping for us,” she said. “That is going to happen the second weekend in January.”

Koole said the County will also be collecting live Christmas trees at any of RVC’s transfer sites. The trees must be “naked,” Koole said, and stripped of all decorations.

“We do end up chipping them and the chips go for use on our parks and trails,” Koole said. “That’s a great way to complete that circle of life for that tree.”

Many partner sites will also collect live trees, but Koole recommended checking ahead to make sure.

Broken decorations and artificial trees must be thrown out in the garbage, but Koole said that any reusable decorations that no longer suit your tastes can be deposited at donation bins and sheds at RVC’s transfer sites. Grimm noted the Airdrie Recycle Depot is equipped to collect burned-out Christmas lights.

“We encourage everyone, whether it’s Christmastime or any other holiday time, to do their part to reduce, reuse and recycle, and to use our programs to their highest level of ability to divert as much waste as we can,” Koole said.

With an increase of holiday waste comes the potential to over-fill blue and green carts in Airdrie, Grimm said, which can cause problems on collection days.

“I think what the holidays do – and it’s not necessarily COVID but we’ve seen it as a result of COVID too – residents are at home, their routines are disrupted, the forget to put their stuff out or they put it out too late, so we’ve seen some of those challenges,” she said.

In order to be picked up, carts must have their lids closed – to keep moisture out – and must be loose enough so that it can be easily dumped by the truck. If you have an excess of waste, a trip to the recycle depot or the transfer site may be in order.

During the holiday season, collection services in Airdrie will be interrupted on Christmas Day and New Years Day, and the recycle depot and transfer site will also be closed those days. If you normally would have waste or recycling picked up on those Fridays, crews will instead pick up on the following Saturday – Boxing Day or Jan. 2. The transfer site and Recycle Depot will also be open on Boxing Day.

Additionally, the transfer site and Recycle Depot will both close at noon on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Otherwise, operating hours at both locations will be normal.

Koole said there will be no disruption to any of RVC’s owned and operated sites or to waste collection. However, she added some partner sites will see some closures.

This year, Grimm said her department has seen an increase in the volume of waste in all three streams, which she attributed to people being home more often during the pandemic. She anticipated that was likely to continue during the holiday season.

The situation is similar in RVC. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Koole said waste and recycling quantities have increased in 2020, and her department doesn’t anticipate that changing during the holidays.

“Even though people will be staying home, we suspect many traditions will still prevail and, as well, we are seeing and expect to see more boxes as December goes on, with online shopping.”

Ben Sherick,
Follow me on Twitter @BenSherick