Among the many changes brought about by the coronavirus, one of the major issues faced by cities was trash removal, specifically the programs associated with recycling.
All across America, the Covid pandemic has forced recycling and reusable or secondhand goods to slow down in order to minimize person to person contact. In addition, a lot of stores have gone back to single use plastic bags. This trend could have extremely negative consequences for what is known as a circular economy.
Another consequence of the virus is a general increase in waste in most major cities, for example, from March 2020, sanitation workers have noticed large increases in municipal garbage and recyclables. For example, in cities like Chicago, workers have seen up to 50% more waste. This growing amount of trash can be attributed in part due to “spring cleaning”, but most of it is due to people spending greater time at home. Restaurants struggling to survive under COVID-19 restrictions are contributing to the rise in plastic and paper waste with takeout packaging. The increased use of disposable PPE such as masks and gloves also plays a major role in this increase of trash. (source)
Despite the fact that recycling programs are slowing down across the country, the coronavirus may have demonstrated their significance in the future and as an economic boost during the recovery period. “As we face economic and budgetary hurdles and recover from COVID-19, recycling can be a means of solidifying and strengthening the supply chain, minimizing cost and protecting the environment as a whole. Our economy will need this,” Wall said. “Recycling is not just beneficial, it’s absolutely necessary, and despite the destructive nature of COVID-19, the pandemic can provide the impetus to build a brighter and better future for recycled products.”(source)
Recognizing the benefits of recycling programs as well as their recent decrease in most cities, some municipalities are beginning to make their own programs and initiatives in order to help support recycling efforts. Philadelphia is one of the cities currently experiencing a large increase in the amount of waste, and having delays which last for several days at a time. In Philadelphia specifically, residents now have the opportunity to schedule appointments to recycle clothing and electronics thanks to a new service provided by the city. (source)
This is just one of the many initiatives that the city has created in order to promote recycling and sustainability. “To decrease delays, the city launched a new initiative called “Curb Your Waste.” It provides tips for homeowners to decrease the amount of trash set out for collection. Some examples include using garbage disposals, setting out trash properly and keeping the weight under 40 pounds. The city strongly encourages residents to use Sanitation Convenience Centers in order to avoid collection delays.” (source)
Some cities, however, have had minimal issues in dealing with recycling. “In Boston, where residential trash and recycling collection is done by contractors rather than city workers, an official said there have been no pickup schedule adjustments despite a 25% increase in tonnage. The initial increase has since subsided, but is still 10% more than before the pandemic.New York City, which was hard-hit by COVID-19 this spring but has the largest sanitation department in the world, was able to keep up with collections. Officials have attributed that success in part to a decrease in trash volume in some wealthy neighborhoods, as residents fled the city.” (source) It is interesting how every city has been impacted differently by the pandemic in terms of waste disposal, with some having to deal with an increasing amount of trash and less workers while others have had less trash due to the amount of people leaving highly populated areas.
In the future, there is hope that recycling programs will become a major part of many cities and will help them achieve their short term and long term environmental sustainability goals. For example, according to CleanPHL, Philadelphia’s long-term Zero Waste goal is to fully eliminate the use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035. The key to preventing issues like climate change is for more cities and countries to work together in setting specific goals to ultimately create a sustainable future for the next generation. At the current rate, with the increase in wildfires and other natural disasters worldwide, we can no longer ignore the reality of climate change and its effects. Recycling is one of the many ways that we can help stop the effects of global warming and help restore the planet.