Holiday wrapping materials pose potential environmental threat

Holiday gift buying is entering its final few days before Christmas Monday. Customers lined up to have finishing touches placed on packages at this charity wrapping station at Valley Fair Mall in West San Jose. Volunteer Grantis Peranda says an assortment of products are used to make each gift a Christmas surprise.

"We have about 21 different wrapping papers here that people can choose from. as well as ribbons and bows," said Peranda, as he used scissors to make a decorative bow on top of a box.

But after the unwrapping, experts warn of a potential environmental threat if the items aren't properly separated before being placed into recycling bins.

"There are some things that are problem materials like ribbons and bows. those frankly, sorry to say, that they can't be recycled," said Bruce Olszewski, the director of the San Jose State Center for the Development of Recycling.

He says the U.S. receives five billion dollars annually from China for recycled materials, that are used over there to produce products. However, contaminating the recycling streams -- for example plastics in with papers -- has become a growing problem. 

This month, the Chinese government announced it'll stop accepting recycle shipments with more than one-percent contamination, possibly leading to more waste in landfills.

"If it's too contaminated, they just don't separate it before recycling. It takes too much time. It'll come off the end of the line., so some of these things are going to end up in the trash," Olszewski said.

Back at Valley Fair Mall, Peranda says few customers know the extensive damage recycling cross-contamination can cause.

"I think they just kind of throw it into the recycling all at once," Peranda said.

But gift wrapping customer Adolfo Castillo is on the forefront, thanks in large part to his girlfriend. She picked her own gift, and knows how to separate items for recycling afterwards.

"She knows exactly what to do with all this. Compost and everything. – she knows how to recycle," Castillo said. 

After you rip open your presents Monday, remember to separate the bubble-wrap, paper, ribbons, plastics, and paper so you don't cross-contaminate.