Branford's Gift Wrap Recycling is 1st in State

Speaking to the Branford Garden Club recently, Etta Hanlon shows a recycling bag which can be filled with holiday-related paper gift waste; then left at the curb on any regular trash/recycling collection day. Hanlon, a 15 year-old Branford High School sophomore, came up with the idea to create a town-wide program to encourage residents to recycle holiday paper waste, rather than throwing it in the garbage. Branford usually pays to collect an additional 40 tons of solid waste post-Christmas, much of it used wrapping paper, gift boxes, and other paper-based material thatís perfect for recycling.

Thanks to 15 year-old Etta Hanlon, Branford is set to the lead the state in recycling Christmas morning’s drifts of ripped-up wrapping paper and empty gift boxes.

Hanlon is the daughter of Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Doug Hanlon, who also chairs the Public Services Committee. The Hanlon family’s interest in recycling includes encouraging their kids to waste not; and that’s how the Branford High School sophomore struck upon this novel idea.

“My brother and I get a lot of presents and each year we generate a lot of waste in boxes and wrapping paper. I always thought, ‘…this is all recyclable.’ My parents always told us to recycle, but this was going in the trash. I thought it would be really good if we could recycle it,” said Hanlon.

She developed the idea and, with encouragement from her dad, forwarded it to the town for consideration. Hanlon did her research, showing that Branford pays to collect about 40 more tons of solid waste generated each Christmas. If wrapping paper and gift boxes were instead separated and recycled, the town would pay less; and the former trash would be turned into profit-generating recycling material.

About four months ago, Hanlon made a successful presentation to the RTM to get permission to try out her idea town-wide this Christmas season.  The program has been in the works ever since, with guidance and assistance from Branford Solid Waste Supervisor Daniel McGowan.

“Etta has come up with what is the first program of its type in the state,” said McGowan. “As she said, looking at the numbers over the past years, there is a 40-ton bump from Christmas in solid waste. A certain percentage is actual trash; but a large percentage is wrapping paper and cardboard. With any luck, we should see an increase in paper recycling and a decrease in the 40-ton bump we get, and we should be able to somewhat quantify whether the program’s successful.”

The town has 4,000 specially-printed holiday waste paper collection bags to distribute. Once filled, the bags can be put out on any regular trash and recycling pick-up day. The bags are the size of lawn and leaf bags and list what’s okay to recycle and what isn’t. Paper-based wrapping paper, used gift boxes (not corrugated), tissue paper, paper name tags and cards and any other paper-based holiday waste is the goal.  Foil, plastic and mylar-based wrapping papers aren’t acceptable. Basically the rule of thumb is “…if it rips, it fits,” said McGowan. 

Bags are available at Branford Community House, Town Hall, town libraries and the Senior Center and will also be distributed through some of the town’s schools (K – 8) and churches. If the bags run out, residents can use paper lawn and leaf bags or even smaller paper bags; so long as all bags can be easily distinguished for the recycling hauler as containing holiday paper waste (mark them in bold lettering or wrap some used gift paper around the outside, suggested McGowan).

As for the young lady who looked at all that holiday paper waste and thought “…why not recycle?” her hope is to see residents recycle 100 percent of their holiday paper waste, and for the rest of state follow in Branford’s footsteps.

“The basic premise is people would recycle this holiday waste if there was a convenient way to do it; but since there’s been no convenient way to do it, nobody recycles. If it’s convenient enough, I’m hoping everyone will realize there’s no reason not to (and) I hope it becomes a statewide thing. It would be good for us to become a leader in recycling,” said Hanlon.

For more information on Branford’s Holiday Paper Waste Recycling effort, go to and click on Solid Waste & Recycling Center (listed under Other Town Departments) or call the office at (203) 315-0622.



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