Ask Eartha Steward: Do your part. Be a good sort. |

Ask Eartha Steward: Do your part. Be a good sort.

High Country Conservation Center
High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha,

Can bubble wrap be recycled? What about other packaging materials?

” Erin Kennedy, Summit County

‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through the town, UPS trucks were driving, dropping packages around. Yes, the season of treasures hidden in brown boxes is upon us, and with it ” a lot of extra packaging materials!

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to reduce, reuse and recycle the packaging materials that safely enclose our goods for shipment. Let’s run down a list of common materials.

Bubble Wrap is generally a #4 plastic and is therefore recyclable in the Mixed Plastics bin at the Frisco, Breckenridge and Dillon drop-off centers. But because it’s not marked, this does fly against all of my plastic preaching which dictates “When it doubt, throw it out.”

But, please understand, dear readers, that this is a special circumstance. There’s so much bubble wrap floating around this time of year that the staff here at Eartha headquarters did a little research, called some distributors, and found that most (if not all) bubble wrap is a #4 plastic. But, just because I told you that it’s OK to recycle unmarked bubble wrap DOES NOT give you a free pass to recycle any unmarked plastic film that you want.

Lately we’ve been having a problem with contractors and painters putting in this thick plastic sheeting that is totally not recyclable and ends up wreaking havoc on our precious plastics stream ” so if you see any of this happening, please deputize yourself as one of Eartha’s Angels and kindly ask the sorter to throw it away.

Sytrofoam Peanuts are a particular material that plagues my nightmares. These lightweight wonders can fly for miles on a good current of wind. Without fail I spend some of my holiday season chasing these pesky white peanuts around a drop-off center after someone tossed a cardboard box full of peanuts into the bin.

Like all #6 plastic, Styrofoam, packaging peanuts are NOT recyclable. But, thankfully, they are reusable. All of the local UPS Stores take clean, dry packaging peanuts for reuse.

Styrofoam Blocks, the ubiquitous chunks that come with any electrical device or teeny-tiny glass candle holder, are a #6 polystyrene material (like the aforementioned peanuts) and are NOT recyclable in Summit County. Up here, there is nothing to with them but store them for reuse, create a piece of modern art, or toss them in the trash.

Biodegradable Peanuts are relatively new to the packaging market place and are easily detectable by wetting your fingers and touching the peanuts. If they start to disintegrate and “melt” in your hands, they are biodegradable. You can toss these in your backyard compost bin, let your kids experiment with them in the sink, or toss them in the trash knowing that they’ll probably melt into near nothing before they hit the landfill.

Brown Packaging Paper, sometimes called Kraft paper, is great for wrapping boxes for shipment or even for wrapping presents. This paper, also used for moving boxes and wrapping plates and such, is recyclable with cardboard and paperboard ” NOT with the Mixed Paper.

You see, brown paper is more like cardboard than it is like newspapers, junk mail or magazines. Its fibers are unbleached and a little sturdier than the other common papers. Paper recycling has come a long way. We no longer have to worry about tape, staples, plastic window envelopes, paper clips or other things.

But, to be effective, paper recycling requires some minimal sorting on our behalf ” in Summit County, this means sorting brown papers (cardboard, paperboard, brown paper bags, and brown packaging paper) in one bin and all other papers (newspapers, junk mail, magazines, office paper, phone books) in another. Again, feel free to deputize yourself as one of Eartha’s Angels if you see brown papers of any kind in the Mixed Paper bins at the drop-off centers.

Cardboard is perhaps the most voluminous recyclable out there. You probably already know that you can recycle cardboard at the drop-off centers. Please flatten your boxes and remove any internal packaging, especially Styrofoam blocks and peanuts and any plastic material.

There you have it, a little list to help you recycle your packaging this holiday season. Of course, recycling is the last step. Try reusing these materials by storing a few boxes with packaging material for next season or for that last-minute shipment of cookies to Aunt Sally.

And please remember that following the recycling sorting guidelines ensures continued success of our amazing community recycling program. I think I read this somewhere, “it takes an entire community to raise a recycling program.” Do you part. Be a good sort. Help those new to the system figure it out. And, always, feel free to call or e-mail us with your recycling questions.

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff and Beth Orstad, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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