The Coronavirus (Covid-19) seems to have had an impact on every aspect of our lives. No more movies. No more hockey games. School is taught via Zoom. Dining alfresco is now the norm. Covid-19 has even had effects on the way we generate and throw away our trash and recycle.
When this virus first hit in the U.S., many local transfer stations and recycling centers reduced hours, changed their acceptance policies and even limited the number of people on site. Many waste facilities moved to cashless transactions, some stopped charging, some closed their facility buildings to non-employees and a small number of facilities stopped recycling all together.
These changes are only the surface. There have been a number of other changes to the way waste and recycling are managed since a pandemic was declared in the spring of 2020.
As an individual, you are seeing more single-use plastic. This rapid change is to protect public health. For a brief time, reusable bags couldn’t be used in NH. Some stores continue to prohibit the use of reusable bags, while others ask shoppers to bag their own purchases. Single-use coffee cups are back on the rise; due to a concern for reusing travel mugs. Navigating some of these changes can be difficult. To reduce confusion, do your homework and check on your frequently used shops. You should also consider making coffee at home; packing a lunch from home and bringing water from home in a reusable container. You can still reduce waste with a little planning. For those who want to use their reusable shopping bags or mugs, call ahead to see if and how you can use one.
The pandemic has affected our work lives by encouraging people to work from home, where possible. Working from home not only reduces commuting time and transportation-energy use but also generates less waste. Employees use more digital resources (emails, notes, and file sharing) while working from home. This equates to less waste. Also, when working from home, people likely make their lunch as opposed to consuming packaged meals; again, producing less waste.
Nationally, Covid-19 has impacted larger solid waste and recycling programs as well. Solid waste disposal rates are down nearly 15%. With so many businesses closed, there is actually less waste produced. Processing costs for recycling have gone up with increased labor needs, safety protocols and maintaining social distances.
However, curbside recycling collection is up due to remote working. Many are also shopping more online, so the amount of cardboard generated is also up. The downside is that overseas recycling markets are in a bit of a slump, so many large recycling facilities have a backlog of recyclables stored. To help with a backlog of recyclables, domestic recycling capacity is being planned and should be operational within the next 18 months. This should help to ensure future options for all of our recyclables. Many domestic markets are commanding very clean material due to the increased supply of recyclables, so be sure when you recycle your bottles, cans, paper and cardboard that it is done correctly to ensure recyclability.
With the increased unemployment rate, many of us found ourselves at home with nothing to do. This situation resulted in an increase in clean-out projects. Homeowners have been cleaning out basements, garages and barns. At one local solid-waste facility, the number of old couches and mattresses delivered for disposal nearly doubled. Based on informally talking with local waste haulers, cleanout job requests are up nearly 200%. If you are cleaning out your home, be sure you know what charges to expect and how a particular waste can be processed.
Last, don’t be discouraged. Find a reusable face mask, stay six feet apart and do your part to reduce our waste’s impact on the environment. Be sure that when you are recycling, you do it right. Reach out to your local recycler to find out how they are handling the current challenges, and what items are truly recyclable.
Marc Morgan is the Lebanon, NH Solid Waste Manager for the Department of Public Works. To learn more, check their website at https://lebanonnh.gov/Waste-Recycling or call 603-298-6486.
Captions (Photos coming):
Mattresses at Lebanon Solid Waste Facility Lebanon NH. Photo: Evelyn R. Swett (evelynrswett.com)
Couch and mattresses at Lebanon Solid Waste Facility Lebanon NH. Photo: Evelyn R. Swett (evelynrswett.com)