When the World Health Organization first announced COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, no one knew what to expect. Most people had no ideas they’d be working from home offices for months, social distancing, and wearing masks. As some states had to shut down recycling centers and solid waste districts, concerns over reuse and recycling rose. The pandemic hasn’t ended. Some states have lifted lockdowns, but others still have them in place.
One thing became noticeable to waste and recycling haulers. People who were stuck at home as jobs were furloughed started cleaning up cluttered rooms. The amount of recycling and trash increased. Companies like Casella, a major hauler in New England, haven’t seen clusters of infected staff because they’re following strict guidelines and wearing protective gear. They’ve also stopped accepting some recycled items for now and have closed locations down for thorough cleaning and sanitizing. That can make it hard to know what you can recycle and what you can safely reuse.
How Safe is Recycling?
As many recycled items are washed and melted down for reuse, the current pandemic isn’t going to change those practices. Recycling remains safe and a great way to help keep landfills from overflowing. Make sure you’ve done your part and washed jars, containers, and cans in warm, soapy water before placing them in your recycling bin.
If you have compost for your gardens, unbleached paper, cardboard, and paper towels can go into the compost. In states like Vermont and Oregon where food scrap recycling is required, you’ll need to find haulers who will collect food scraps or drive them to facilities. This practice is safe. The biggest risk is bacteria from the decomposing meats and bones. Rinse your bucket each week and pour the water you’ve rinsed with into your compost bin.
You should keep up-to-date with the latest changes to your waste company’s policies. You might find that they are temporarily stopping recycling for certain items due to staff shortages. While recycling most plastics, glass jars, cans, cardboard, and paper is easy, you may have a harder time recycling items like mattresses, furniture, appliances, and electronics.
You may have to break down some items on your own for now. For example, one waste district recommended residents cut the fabric off mattresses, throw away the fabric and padding, recycle the metal springs, and compost any wood and cardboard. It’s extra work, but it beats having mattresses taking up room in a basement or garage.
Could You Reuse Items?
There have been concerns about contracting COVID-19 by touching an item someone else has touched. Touch transmission isn’t a common way to get the virus, so it’s not something you should worry about. Washing hands regularly for the full 20 seconds or longer is the best way to reduce this risk. Spraying items with sanitizing sprays or a mixture of bleach and water further reduces any risk. Don’t let fears of the virus keep you from reusing things you see set outside for free or in free postings online.
Reusing is a great option for reducing waste. Even if the pandemic ends tomorrow, you should still try to reuse things as much as possible. Finding someone who wants your used furniture may be hard, but it’s not impossible. Repurpose older furnishings with new upholstery, paint, and the padding gives new life to older furnishings and keeps them from heading to landfills during the pandemic. You can use your new furniture or sell it. While it does require some work on your part, it’s a fun hobby, and there are a lot of instructional videos online.
You may find new life in things you would usually recycle. Keep the cardboard box you got when your online purchase arrived. Put those boxes in your trunk. The next time you go shopping, put items back in your cart after you pay and load them into the boxes. Paint Mason jars with black chalkboard paint and store bulk spice, grain, and herb purchases in those jars. Buy new lids if you’re missing any or they’re in rough shape. The black paint blocks the light that may alter the taste, and the large jars are airtight, which helps with long-term storage.
Check social media sites for town pages and see if there is a barter and swap group. Free and trade groups are other keywords to use when searching for these groups. People in need of free items will post in there and happily take things off your hands. Sometimes, they’re happy to take them in as-is condition and reupholster or repurpose them on once they have them. It saves you the trouble of doing it.
Do Your Part
Make sure you’re reusing and recycling as much as you can. It’s trickier with the pandemic, but it’s not impossible. Try to purchase items so that they contain as little waste as possible. If you purchase a cucumber and tomato at the store, don’t get the plastic bag. If you have to have a bag, consider using one bag for both items.
Keep a printed list of recyclables that are accepted in your district. This makes it easy to look up items and know if they are trashed or recycled. You’ll start seeing patterns in things that you cannot recycle. If you find one of your preferred pet food brands only uses a plastic container that cannot be recycled, consider finding a new brand. Instead of plastic grocery bags at the store, purchase reusable ones.
Ask the local schools if there are items they need for classrooms. The plastic egg container you got with your eggs makes an ideal paint container. Coffee filters that don’t fit your new coffee maker can go to a classroom for art projects.
Donate your used books to assisted living communities. Older adults are often on a fixed income and will love having free reading materials. Ask if they could use older sheets and blankets. It may have no value to you, but they may have a sewing club that could take the fabric and turn it into squares to make a new quilt. Washing the sheets and blankets in hot water with plenty of soap kills any germs, so you don’t have to worry about spreading anything to them.
Compost as much If you grow your own herbs, vegetables, and fruits, composting helps ensure your gardens are full of nutrients that help plants thrive. When you compost, you can compost all scraps from fruits and vegetables. You can compost unbleached paper products, cardboard, eggshells, coffee grounds, and more. Compost grass clippings, leaves, and other yard products get added to the mix to help prevent odors and create rich mulch. Other items you can compost include:
- Fireplace/wood stove ashes
- Herbs and spices
- Manure from farm animals
- Old wine
- Pine needles
- Tea leaves and tea bags
- Wood chips
No matter what happens with the pandemic – whether it ends a month from now or a year from now – wash hands, practice social distancing, and stay home if you’re not feeling well. Don’t be around others who are coughing or otherwise acting ill.
Are you looking for a drop-off center where you can bring recyclables? Recycle Nation is happy to help you find the answers you need. Use our search function to find how to recycle specific items in your area. Choose the item from a drop-down menu and enter your ZIP. You’ll have the facility’s name, hours, contact information, and directions in a matter of seconds.