How is COVID-19 impacting recycling in the U.S.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause massive disruption to Americans’ everyday lives, one little-talked-about area of impact is that of recycling. The already struggling recycling industry has faced a crisis as many reusable items have been temporarily barred due to ongoing concerns about person-to-person exposure to the COVID virus. As a result, higher volumes of waste have gone unrecycled.

Since many shelter-in-place orders began in March 2020, cities across the U. S. have seen a massive 20% increase in municipal garbage and recyclables. Much of the waste can be attributed to more online shopping, spring cleaning and an increase in takeout packaging from restaurants.

Many municipalities are struggling with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls, and recycling programs are also feeling the squeeze. Cities such as Rock Springs, Wyoming and East Peoria, Illinois have been forced to completely cut their recycling programs.

As recycling imports for low-quality scrap were banned from China and other Asian markets, the demand for raw recyclables has hit an all-time low, putting pressure on the already struggling recycling market. While the pandemic has temporarily boosted prices for some recyclables, the overall prices for reclaimed plastics are at 10-year lows. With an influx of cheap oil, the price of raw materials from oil-derived virgin plastics is at their lowest level in decades.

With suspensions and collections on pause across the country, what does the future hold for the recycling industry?

With no end to the U.S. consumption of plastic and little regulatory guidance from federal or state governments, it is increasingly obvious that a grassroots movement of citizens dedicated to preserving our earth is needed to stem the tide of plastic pollution across the world.

Technologies exist that can greatly reduce our dependence on single-use plastics, but we need your help to engage manufacturers and retailers to adopt these new technologies. Unfortunately, they don’t believe we care enough to change.

It’s time to eliminate plastic waste for good. The technology exists to refill household products right in your nearest store, right now. But you aren’t getting access to it. We need your voice in the fight for refill technology. Sign our petition today!