Labor shortages are hitting cities across the U.S. Waste and recycling is just one industry impacted by the lack of applicants. Jacksonville, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; and Northampton, Pennsylvania, are just a few cities struggling to find enough drivers for recycling and trash pick-ups in the past few months. Currently, more than 100 districts in the U.S. have dropped curbside services due to the cost or labor shortages.

The transportation industry saw employment drop by almost 4% between November 2019 and November 2020. Part of this was due to the pandemic. The other issue is that 27% of the nation’s truck drivers are 55 or older. Many of those drivers are reaching retirement age, and new drivers are not applying to fill the vacancies. Until new hires complete CDL training and have their license, it’s hard for trash and recycling haulers to get enough trucks on the road to meet the increasing demand.

More than half of all U.S. households had curbside recycling and trash pick-up in 2019. Only 6% have no recycling service available without driving miles to the nearest facility. If you’re in a household where curbside recycling is offered, but service is delayed or stopped due to labor shortages, what do you do?

Buy Items That Limit the Number of Recyclables That You Generate

The average person generates 4.9 pounds of municipal solid waste each day, including trash, recyclables, and food waste. Limiting the amount of waste and recyclables is a critical step.

Cook enough food for the meal and maybe a day or two of leftovers. Remember that a cooked meal is usually only good for three days if it contains meat. If you continually cook meals with leftovers, you’ll end up with some waste. Be careful about portioning to avoid excess that cannot be used in time.

Instead of buying items that increase the number of recyclables you’ll create, shop with recycling in mind. For example, your household water comes from a well that’s high in sulfur. Even filtered, it doesn’t taste great. You drink bottled water for that reason, but that generates a lot of recyclables.

Consider investing in a water cooler and set up deliveries of the five-gallon water jugs to use with it. Some grocery stores also sell five-gallon jugs. Fill a glass or reusable water bottle with water to drink while you work or leave the house. When you empty the water jug, the company takes it back to sterilize it and refill it for another delivery.

Reuse Anything You Can

When you empty a bottle of window cleaner, rinse it out, let it dry, and refill it. White distilled vinegar is inexpensive and makes a great glass cleaner. Buy a refillable glass spray bottle and use a mixture of water and bleach for a sanitizing spray for counters and hard surfaces. You can also look into Grove products that sell refillable cleaner concentrates to use in the glass bottles that come in your starter set.

If you order items online, don’t recycle the boxes. Save them to give to others who are looking for quality boxes for moving or shipping needs. Rip them up and put them in your compost, or save them as fire starters for your wood stove, grill, or outdoor fire pit, if area regulations allow it. You can also sell good cardboard boxes on some sites.

You might be able to avoid recycling some items. If you have a bunch of baby food jars, clean them out. People find them handy for storing small items like screws, spices, and paper clips. Glue a magnet to the side of the jar and turn the empty side of your fridge into a handy spice rack.

Save items like egg cartons and toilet paper tubes. Ask local elementary schools if they could use them in their classrooms for art projects. Many teachers will be overjoyed to get these items for donations.

Now is an excellent time to create a lasagna garden bed for next spring. It’s an easy-to-build garden that starts with a layer of wet cardboard or newspaper, coffee grounds and filters, grass clippings, leaves, food scraps (no meats), and any compost you have ready. Build it up in layers until it’s about a foot high. It will start to break down on warmer days. When spring arrives, add more compost and plant seeds or starter plants. They’ll help break down more of the items as the roots take hold.

Purchase Recycled

Keep the recycling stream going by shopping for items that are made with recycled products. Shoes, clothing, electronics, and clothing made from recycled plastics are all available. Reebok X Thread sneakers are made from recycled plastics. The Adidas Parley line is made from recycled ocean plastics.

HP’s Elite c1030 and Elite Dragonfly are laptops made with as much recycled plastics as possible. Ocean plastics are also used to make the HP E24d G4 and E27d G4 Advanced Docking monitors. Dell and Acer also offer laptops made from recycled plastic.

If you’re interested in clothing made from thread that’s spun from plastic bottles, turn to Patagonia. The company has a line of fleece items made from recycled bottles. Plus, BEEN London makes items from recycled leather and plastic bottles. They’re just two of many companies that use recycled materials in their clothing lines.

Prepare to Drop It Off at a Local Center

Most cities are asking residents to bring their recyclables to a local recycling center. This is a good option if the hours are convenient. You’ll drive to the center and dispose of them in the proper area. Sort them first to make this easier to manage. There are different areas for electronics, paper products, plastics, hazardous waste, and food scraps in most recycling centers.

The benefit to bringing them to the recycling center is that items you cannot leave in your curbside container are recycled at a center. You can drop off your used motor oil and cooking oil, batteries and electronics, small appliances, mattresses, light bulbs, wood scraps, and metal scraps. You’ll be able to recycle far more items than you can through your curbside pick-up service.

Avoid frustration by checking the recycling center’s hours. While most districts are back to regular hours, staff shortages may have some facilities down to part-time hours. You can’t drop items off if there is no staff available. You may also face limits on what you can drop off per visit. You may run into facilities that will take specific recyclables on certain days of the week or by appointment only.

Talk to Your Neighbors

It’s not always easy to talk to your neighbors in today’s busy world, but they’ll be facing the same dilemma you are. If they don’t know what to do with their recyclables, you may be able to get a group together and swap weekend trips to the recycling facility.

Say you work every other weekend. You could take your and your neighbor’s recycling to the center on your weekend off in exchange for your neighbors taking yours and theirs on the weekend you work. If you get enough neighbors, you may be able to arrange a system where you only have to go once a month. Make sure your vehicle is big enough to fit everyone’s recycling.

Recycle Nation can help you find the location and hours of local recycling facilities. You’ll also be able to search for mail-back programs and pick-up services in some areas. If it helps narrow down your options, look for specific recyclables to find the best place to go for recycling.