A cartoon Santa peeps from the side of a green gift bag nestled in a pile of discarded wrapping paper in a blue recycling bin by the side of the road.
Stacks of cardboard boxes for new computers, TVs and other electronic equipment are scattered throughout the route taken by Scenic City Recycling workers in the weeks after Christmas and New Year's Day.
Joe Fowlkes, owner of the recycling company, said the holidays are always a busy time for recyclers.
"It really starts pretty much the week after Thanksgiving and gradually builds until two or three weeks after Christmas," he said. "The week after is the heaviest. We usually see a 50 percent increase in paper."
For small recycling companies, it's no easy feat to prepare for and handle the extra materials that come their way after weeks of holiday get-togethers and gift giving.
Fowlkes said his crew gets started earlier each morning and works a little later each evening to keep up with the increased amount of work.
"That's pretty much all you can do -- is get after it," he said.
Jennifer Backer, owner of United Recycling Services, said a route that would typically take half to three-quarters of the day will take about 11/2 days to complete after the holidays. Parties for New Year's Eve will also result in an abundance of recyclable materials ranging from cardboard boxes to champagne bottles, recyclers said.
At Orange Grove Center, which receives material from the Chattanooga's blue bag curbside recycling program, the pileup of materials lasts about two weeks after the holidays end, said plant manager Bill Ramsey.
Since the staff is limited, its members stay busy year-round, but during the holidays will have to let the inventory build up until there's time to "work it back down," he said.
"When you see a dump truck, it will be full of wrapping paper and the boxes the presents come in -- the whole Dumpster will just be full of it," Ramsey said.
old computers and phones
The weeks following the holiday season are also a big time for electronics recyclers, said Kevin Paul, owner of Technology Lifecycle. He said he plans to hold an after-Christmas recycling day on Jan. 15 at his Hixson Pike warehouse to collect old TVs, computers and other electronics such as iPods.
"Everybody gets new stuff for Christmas and we want them to get out of that habit of throwing their old things away," he said. "The stuff looks a lot less valuable next to all the shiny, new stuff you just got."
Fowlkes, who has been running his company here since July 2007, said the amount of discarded material hasn't decreased since the economy tanked. He said that's a good sign, too, because it seems like more people are taking up recycling.
"Since the recession, you'd think there wouldn't be as many gifts, but to tell you the truth, it seems about the same to me," he said.
Ramsey credits the increasing amount of recycling throughout the city to efforts by the city government to put convenient dropoff locations throughout the area. He said recycling in Chattanooga has gotten to the point where it's not difficult to schedule curbside pickup or find a place to drop off your recyclables, any time of the year.
"I think we still have a long ways to go," he said, "but it has increased a lot over the last two years."
Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at email@example.com oxr 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.