The holidays are in full swing and likely so are preparations for gatherings with family and friends. It's also a time in which we create a lot of waste.

During the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Americans throw away 25 percent more waste than at any other time of the year. This often includes many items that can be recycled or reused.

We're fortunate in central Ohio because it's clear that our residents and businesses want to recycle. In fact, the region just reached an all-time high recycling rate of 49 percent. That means 49 percent of all the waste created is being diverted from the landfill through recycling, reuse, composting or other waste-diversion methods.

But sometimes, we can be overly optimistic with our recycling, tossing items into recycling bins that we hope can be recycled but actually cannot. This leads to "wish-cycling," where good intentions can end up reducing the amount of materials recycled and contribute to higher costs for recycling.

One example is holiday lights, which are not accepted through Franklin County's curbside recycling or drop-off programs. Like plastic bags, light strands can tangle in the recycling equipment, causing processing stoppages and leading to higher costs for recycling.

Luckily, many of your holiday decorations and packaging materials can and should be recycled. Wrapping paper and holiday greeting cards free of glitter and foil embellishments can be tossed in a curbside recycling bin.

Cardboard boxes also can be recycled. You can save space in your recycling bin by flattening the boxes before recycling them. If you're shipping gifts, remember that plastic wrapping and bubble wrap are not recyclable. Newspaper, however, makes a good substitute for packaging items and can be recycled by the recipient.

After the holidays, live Christmas trees, wreaths and greenery can be composted. Remove all lights and decorations and then simply put them at the curb. Your local waste hauler will pick these items up after the holidays. Check with your community to find out when trees will be picked up.

Ribbons, bows and gift bags can be reused. Artificial trees and other decorations can be donated to thrift stores and nonprofits, such as Goodwill.

It's also easy to reduce the amount of food wasted over the holidays by buying only what you need when shopping for groceries. The Natural Resources Defense Council's "Guest-imator" tool, available at savethefood.com, can help you estimate how much food is needed to keep guests fed and happy.

Instead of tossing leftovers, send them home with friends and family or enjoy them as easy meals for a few days. You also may compost leftover food to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden or house plants.

Are there any other items you'd like to know how to recycle? The Recycling & Reuse Search Tool at swaco.org is a great way to learn how and where to recycle those hard-to-dispose-of materials.

You also may email questions@swaco.org, and we will respond with an answer or address your questions in a future column.

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. He can be reached at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.