Christmas comes but once a year—though the waste that comes with it lasts much longer.

Clear Creek Disposal is picking up trees for recycling at Rotary Park in Ketchum and on the corner of River and Bullion streets in Hailey—as long as they’re as clean as they were in the woods. Stripped trees can be mulched and reused in other forms, according to the company, but any tinsel—or ornaments or strings of lights—turn them into trash.

Contamination like that plagues recycling no matter the season, according to Blaine County Recycle Center Supervisor Lamar Waters. It’s especially pronounced around the holidays, though, when visitors bring the habits of home to the Wood River Valley.

“We do things differently than Seattle, or L.A.,” he said. “We’re even different from Boise. We’re unique here. We do things the way those other places did years ago, and we haven’t changed because it works.”

Cratering markets for recyclable materials have allowed buyers to get much pickier about the products they accept. With that in mind, Waters urges tourists and taxpayers alike to study up on Blaine County’s system. (Visit for a comprehensive breakdown.)

With all the gifts unwrapped, Waters wants prospective recyclers to pay particular attention to paper. This year, Blaine County struck a deal to sell its paper stream to Hamilton Manufacturing, a Twin Falls-based firm that uses it to make insulation and hydromulch. They’ll only use it if it’s 100 percent pure.

“It takes us hours to get it clean enough,” he said. “When it’s all mixed together, they won’t take it. If we try to handle all the wrapping paper, it will end up trash, anyway.”

So, throw out “anything shiny,” Waters said. Ditto anything with glue, tape, bows or other adornments. And, he urges, don’t beat yourself up about it. Even trash takes on a second life, of sorts. Paper decomposes in the landfill at Milner Butte, west of Twin Falls. The methane gas it produces is pumped out, then used to power the facility, and some 2,500 homes across the area, Waters said.

“If you want to fight the fight, do it with chemicals and plastics,” he said. “With paper, at least here in Idaho, we can put it to work.”

Email the writer:

Load comments