What you can and can’t recycle when it comes to Christmas waste

DENVER - For 20 hours per day, seven days a week, someone at Alpine Waste & Recycling is recycling something.

More than 15,000 tons of recyclables from Denver and beyond get dumped at Alpine every month. But not all of that is supposed to be there.

“It's very costly to pull the contamination out,” said Alpine’s Vice President of Recycling, Brent Hildebrand. Machines pull some of the contamination out, but they can’t find all of it.

So Alpine has to hire dozens of workers to manually pick out the pieces that shouldn't be recycled. They include plastic bags and some boxes. And during this time of year that includes Christmas lights and any wrapping paper that is shiny or has glitter on it.

“If we miss it, it could cause the system to be down and when it's down it's not producing,” Hildebrand said.

That costs Alpine money. It also costs the city of Denver money, which sends all of its recycling there -- 40,000 tons per year.

“The city saves money by recycling,” said Denver Recycles manager Charlotte Pitt. “Because instead of paying a disposal fee, we're able to generate a small amount of revenue, but certainly not a money-making operation.”

And that money is getting even harder to make. The value of some of some recycled bales has plummeted almost 50 percent in the last seven years, but has now stabilized. And China, which imports half of all American recycling sent overseas, is banning shipments that include many contaminates starting next year.

“There's a lot of concern in the industry nationwide about that,” Hildebrand said. “The one saving grace for us, is if you produce clean material, you should be able to ship to China.”

So far people in Denver have produced a very clean recycling stream with relatively few contaminates. And Alpine and the city hope it stays that way.

As a reminder, you can recycle wrapping paper and cards that are plain, but not those that are shiny or have glitter on them.

Denver Recycles is offering free Christmas light recycling this year. Drop off lights you don’t want at the Cherry Creek Recycling Drop-off Center, but do not place them in curbside recycling carts.