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Signs Of The Times Buried In Holiday Trash Heaps

KELLOGG, Idaho - Now that presents have been opened, it's time for another tradition of the holiday season: bags upon bags of trash. And garbage collectors say they can gauge the state of the economy from this year’s haul.

Out at the transfer station in Shoshone County, Idaho, signs of the holidays are all around Vince Peterson.

“Mostly the amount of cardboard, plastic," he says. "Wrapping paper goes wild.”

The EPA estimates Americans throw away roughly 5 million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's – a 25 percent increase over the rest of the year. Occasionally that includes items trashed unintentionally.

“We have found wrapped Christmas presents and people will come back looking for them," Peterson says. "‘Oh, my train set, my kid's train set's gone!’”

Certain signs of the times also show up in the trash heaps. For example, a lot fewer real Christmas trees.

Peterson says, “We find now everyone's going to those artificial trees.”

In fact, overall garbage collection is down from last year in Shoshone County. Peterson says it's not because of recycling. This county is home to one of the highest unemployment rates in Idaho.

“You know you can really tell when the economy is good and everybody's making money," Peterson says. "Boy the garbage is – lots of it. It makes a big difference.”

Still, some people are in a spending mood. Peterson furnished his enter transfer station office with still-good discarded items.

On the Web:

Tracking the economy and GDP through trash (Marketplace)