Since the global pandemic started, our society has been making strides to fight and contain the virus. We have implemented many new societal norms such as social distancing, contactless delivery and increased use of masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. While these are a necessity in order to fight the spread of COVID-19, it is causing us to lose ground in the fight for a greener planet.
Due to the stay-at-home order and social distancing policies, most restaurants around the US have shifted to a take-out routine which increases the usage of single-use packaging. Because of the concern of the virus living on surfaces, businesses like Starbucks has stopped allowing customers to use their own cups and many supermarkets have suspended the use of reusable bags for bagging groceries. While no scientific studies have definitively confirmed that new plastic packaging is safer than reusable ones, the added risk of relying on customers to clean or disinfect their containers is not something these companies want to take.
The fight against COVID-19 has led to an influx of medical plastic and polymer wastes such as masks, faceshields, gloves and gowns that may be contaminated. While it is possible for some items to be recycled, the added risk and cleaning requirements have led hospitals to shy away from sustainable efforts. According to a WHO study in 2018, High-income countries like the US generate approximately 0.5kg of hazardous waste per bed per day. Until the pandemic subsides, there will continue to be more hazardous and non-hazardous polymer materials produced.
Even though there is a surge in plastics waste, many recycling centers around the country and around the world were shut down or reduced in capacity due to the pandemic. Some good news is that even with the increase in the use of disposable items, the nature of the lockdown has led to less trash collected by commercial businesses. Recology, a San Francisco Bay area waste disposal company has found a 5% increase in residential collection of trash despite a 20% drop in commercial trash from office buildings, stores, hotels and restaurants. The amount of commercial trash is likely to increase when businesses start to open up, and might overwhelm collection facilities as they open up too.
What can you do? We started the Ray’cycle Quarantine Challenge to help combat this issue as we saw firsthand the increase in single use items. We will be collecting specific items in an attempt to take pressure off of waste management companies as well as to spearhead a sustained community habit to help tackle current and future recycling issues. While we are all dealing with the global pandemic, the fight for a greener planet has taken a backseat role in society. To those feeling guilty about their waste production during the pandemic, your health is the highest priority. Using single use items helps ensure your health and safety during these uneasy times and your waste is offset by the lack of commercial waste. Being mindful of your waste is the best thing you can do at the moment, and as always you can donate your plastic checkout bags, bottle caps, coffee pods and bubble wrap to our Ray’cycle program in exchange for a gift created from the materials you send.