1. The gas prices conversation we should be having
  2. Reclaiming Black land is challenging but not impossible
  3. Black clergy: Churches can sway views on climate crisis
  4. Can old Philadelphia refineries be cleaned up and restored?
  5. Here’s how Black Philadelphia can help in the environmental justice battle
  6. City Launches Environmental Justice Advisory Commission
  7. FIXING THE STRUGGLE SPACE
  8. SOLAR POLICIES ARE FALLING BEHIND – SO, HOW DO WE CATCH UP?
  9. IS PHILLY’S “TAP” WATER PROGRAM WORKING?
  10. Ian Harris
  11. Melissa Ostroff
  12. THE WATER BILLS ARE WAY TOO HIGH
  13. THE KEY TO APPROACHING FRONTLINE COMMUNITIES ON ALL THINGS GREEN
  14. ICYMI: Watch highlights, panels at ecoWURD’s 2021 Environmental Justice Summit
  15. BLACK MOTHERS NEED CLEANER & SAFER ENVIRONMENTS – IT’S A PUBLIC HEALTH IMPERATIVE
  16. USING DANCE TO SAVE A RIVER
  17. TRACKING PHILADELPHIA’S AIR QUALITY
  18. GETTING RELIGIOUS ON CLIMATE CRISIS
  19. WE NEED MORE BLACK PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE
  20. WHEN THERE’S NO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT, WE HAVE NOTHING
  21. A PREMATURE END TO EVICTION MORATORIUMS
  22. THE LACK OF BELIEF IN CLIMATE CRISIS IS JUST AS MUCH A THREAT
  23. YOU CAN’T HAVE RACIAL JUSTICE WITHOUT FAIR HOUSING
  24. RUN OVER THE SYSTEMS: THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
  25. PENNSYLVANIA IS “WAY BEHIND” ON SOLAR. HOW DOES IT CATCH UP?
  26. Pandemic Relief For Black Farmers Still Is Not Enough
  27. A BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT URBANISM
  28. THAT ELECTRONIC & CLOTHING WASTE PILES UP. SO WHERE TO PUT IT?
  29. THE WOMB IS THE FIRST ENVIRONMENT
  30. A FRIDGE FOR EVERYONE WHO’S HUNGRY
  31. OLD SCHOOL FOSSIL FUEL ECONOMY VS. NEW SCHOOL CLEAN ENERGY ECONOMY
  32. ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE IS THE TOP SOCIAL JUSTICE PRIORITY
  33. IN 2020, DID “BIG GREEN” BECOME LESS WHITE?
  34. CLIMATE ACTION CAN POWER OUR RECOVERY
  35. IN PANDEMIC, AN HBCU DOES IT BETTER
  36. A DANGEROUS LACK OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE PROTECTIONS
  37. HOW FAST CAN A BIDEN PRESIDENCY MOVE ON CLIMATE ISSUES?
  38. CRAFTING A BLACK-DRIVEN CORONAVIRUS AND CLIMATE “STIMULUS” AGENDA
  39. Penn to donate $100 million to Philadelphia school district to help public school children
  40. BLACK ECOLOGIES IN TIDEWATER VIRGINIA
  41. WHAT IS “FROM THE SOURCE REPORTING?”
  42. LEADERSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
  43. THE ECOWURD SUMMIT LAUNCH
  44. National Geographic Virtual Photo Camp: Earth Stories Aimed to Elevate Indigenous Youth Voices
  45. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2020
  46. TOO MANY NATURAL GAS SPILLS
  47. GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
  48. BLACK VOTERS ARE THE ECO-VOTERS CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ARE LOOKING FOR
  49. CANNABIS PROFIT & BLACK ECONOMY
  50. THE NATURE GAP
  51. BLACK PEOPLE NEED NATURE
  52. WHAT IS TREEPHILLY?
  53. IS AN OBSCURE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE IN HARRISBURG DOING ENOUGH?
  54. AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM’S RACIST ROOTS
  55. “THERE’S REALLY A LOT OF QUIET SUFFERING OUT THERE
  56. “WE NEED TO GET INTO THE SUPPLY CHAIN”
  57. “AN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW THAT GIVES YOU A VOICE”
  58. URBAN PLANNING AS A TOOL FOR WHITE SUPREMACY
  59. HEAT WAVES REMIND US CLIMATE CHANGE IS STILL HERE
  60. Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
  61. IN PANDEMIC, MAKING SURE PEOPLE EAT & HOW HBCUs HELP
  62. WE’RE NOT DONE, YET – MORE ACCOUNTABILITY IS NEEDED AT THE PES REFINERY SITE
  63. COVID-19 IS LAYING WASTE TO RECYCLING PROGRAMS
  64. THE PHILADELPHIA HEALTH EQUITY GAPS THAT COVID-19 EXPOSED
  65. THE POWER OF NEW HERBALISM
  66. THERE’S NO RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
  67. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit
  68. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit 2020 Press Release
  69. Too Much Food At Farms, Too Little Food At Stores
  70. THE LINK BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION & COVID-19
  71. CORONAVIRUS REVEALS WHY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS STILL THE CRITICAL ISSUE OF OUR TIME
  72. FROM KATRINA TO CORONAVIRUS, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
  73. COVID-19 SHOWS A BIGGER IMPACT WHERE BLACK PEOPLE LIVE
  74. THE CORONAVIRUS CONVERSATION HAS GOT TO GET A LOT MORE INCLUSIVE THAN THIS
  75. MEDIA’S CLIMATE CHANGE COVERAGE KEEPS BLACK PEOPLE OUT OF IT
  76. “WE DON’T HAVE A CULTURE OF PREPAREDNESS”
  77. PHILADELPHIA HAS A FOOD ECONOMY
  78. HOW URBAN AGRICULTURE CAN IMPROVE FOOD SECURITY IN U.S. CITIES
  79. MAPPING THE LINK BETWEEN INCARCERATION & FOOD INSECURITY
  80. PHILLY’S JAILS ARE, LITERALLY, MAKING PEOPLE SICK
  81. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2019
  82. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit
  83. “We Can’t Breathe: Zulene Mayfield’s Lifelong War with Waste ‘Managers’”
  84. “Is The Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?” by David Love
  85. “The Dangerous Connection Between Climate Change & Food” an interview with Jacqueline Patterson and Adrienne Hollis
  86. “An Oil Refinery Explosion That Was Never Isolated” by Charles Ellison
  87. “Philly Should Be Going ‘Community Solar'” an interview w/ PA Rep. Donna Bullock
  88. “Is The Litter Index Enough?” an interview w/ Nic Esposito
  89. “How Sugarcane Fires in Florida Are Making Black People Sick” an interview w/ Frank Biden
  90. Philly Farm Social – Video and Pictures
  91. #PHILLYFARMSOCIAL GETS REAL IN THE FIELD
  92. THE LACK OF DIVERSE LEADERS IN THE GREEN SPACE Environmental Advocacy Organizations – especially the “Big Green” – Really Need More Black & Brown People in Senior Positions
  93. PLASTIC BAG BANS CAN BACKFIRE … WHEN YOU HAVE OTHER PLASTICS TO CHOOSE FROM
  94. WE REALLY NEED POLITICAL STRATEGISTS LEADING ON CLIMATE CHANGE – NOT ACADEMICS
  95. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN A MUCH MORE CLIMATIC WORLD
  96. A SMALL GERMANTOWN NON-PROFIT “TRADES FOR A DIFFERENCE”
  97. IS PHILLY BLAMING ITS TRASH & RECYCLING CRISIS ON BLACK PEOPLE?
  98. BUT WHAT DOES THE GREEN NEW DEAL MEAN FOR BLACK PEOPLE?
  99. HOW GREEN IS PHILLY’S “GREENWORKS” PLAN?
  100. The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy event recap #ecoWURD #phillyisgreen
  101. Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists
  102. RENAMING “GENTRIFICATION”
  103. FOUR GOVERNORS, ONE URBAN WATERSHED IN NEED OF ACTION
  104. JUST HOW BAD IS THE AIR HURTING PHILLY’S BLACK FAMILIES?
  105. EcoWURD Presents:The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy
  106. IF YOU ARE LOW-INCOME OR HOMELESS, THE POLAR VORTEX IS LIKE A FORM OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
  107. NOT JUST FLINT: THE WATER CRISIS IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
  108. DO THE TRAINS STOP RUNNING? THE SHUTDOWN’S IMPACT ON MASS TRANSIT
  109. BLACK WOMEN & THE TROUBLE WITH BABY POWDER
  110. A WHITE COLLAR CRIME VICTIMIZING NICETOWN
  111. IN NORTH CAROLINA, CLIMATE CHANGE & VOTER SUPPRESSION WORKED HAND-IN-HAND
  112. LOW-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS WOULD GAIN THE MOST FROM GREEN ROOFS
  113. YOUR OWN HOOD: CLOSING THE GENERATIONAL GREEN DIVIDE IN BLACK PHILADELPHIA
  114. THE PRICE OF WATER: LITERAL & FIGURATIVE THIRST AT WORK
  115. THAT CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT TRUMP DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE? YEAH, WELL, IT’S THE LAW
  116. RACIAL & ETHNIC MINORITIES ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO WILDFIRES
  117. NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS Philly Has a Cigarette Butt Problem
  118. HOW SUSTAINABLE CAN PHILLY GET?
  119. USING AFROFUTURISM TO BUILD THE KIND OF WORLD YOU WANT
  120. UNCOVERING PHILLY’S HIDDEN TOXIC DANGERS …
  121. WILL THE ENVIRONMENT DRIVE VOTERS TO THE POLLS? (PART I)
  122. ARE PHILLY SCHOOLS READY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?
  123. 🎧 SEPTA CREATES A GAS PROBLEM IN NORTH PHILLY
  124. 🎧 BREAKING THE GREEN RETAIL CEILING
  125. That’s Nasty: The Cost of Trash in Philly
  126. 🎧 How Can You Solarize Philly?
  127. 🎧 “The Environment Should Be an Active, Living Experience”
  128. Philly’s Lead Crisis Is Larger Than Flint’s
  129. Despite What You Heard, Black Millennials Do Care About the Environment
  130. Hurricanes Always Hurt Black Folks the Most
  131. Are You Going to Drink That?
  132. The Origins of ecoWURD
  133. We Seriously Need More Black Climate Disaster Films
  134. 🎧 Why Should Philly Care About a Pipeline?
  135. 🎧 Not Just Hotter Days Ahead… Costly Ones Too
  136. Philly’s Big and Dangerous Hot Mess
Friday, May 27, 2022
  1. The gas prices conversation we should be having
  2. Reclaiming Black land is challenging but not impossible
  3. Black clergy: Churches can sway views on climate crisis
  4. Can old Philadelphia refineries be cleaned up and restored?
  5. Here’s how Black Philadelphia can help in the environmental justice battle
  6. City Launches Environmental Justice Advisory Commission
  7. FIXING THE STRUGGLE SPACE
  8. SOLAR POLICIES ARE FALLING BEHIND – SO, HOW DO WE CATCH UP?
  9. IS PHILLY’S “TAP” WATER PROGRAM WORKING?
  10. Ian Harris
  11. Melissa Ostroff
  12. THE WATER BILLS ARE WAY TOO HIGH
  13. THE KEY TO APPROACHING FRONTLINE COMMUNITIES ON ALL THINGS GREEN
  14. ICYMI: Watch highlights, panels at ecoWURD’s 2021 Environmental Justice Summit
  15. BLACK MOTHERS NEED CLEANER & SAFER ENVIRONMENTS – IT’S A PUBLIC HEALTH IMPERATIVE
  16. USING DANCE TO SAVE A RIVER
  17. TRACKING PHILADELPHIA’S AIR QUALITY
  18. GETTING RELIGIOUS ON CLIMATE CRISIS
  19. WE NEED MORE BLACK PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE
  20. WHEN THERE’S NO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT, WE HAVE NOTHING
  21. A PREMATURE END TO EVICTION MORATORIUMS
  22. THE LACK OF BELIEF IN CLIMATE CRISIS IS JUST AS MUCH A THREAT
  23. YOU CAN’T HAVE RACIAL JUSTICE WITHOUT FAIR HOUSING
  24. RUN OVER THE SYSTEMS: THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
  25. PENNSYLVANIA IS “WAY BEHIND” ON SOLAR. HOW DOES IT CATCH UP?
  26. Pandemic Relief For Black Farmers Still Is Not Enough
  27. A BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT URBANISM
  28. THAT ELECTRONIC & CLOTHING WASTE PILES UP. SO WHERE TO PUT IT?
  29. THE WOMB IS THE FIRST ENVIRONMENT
  30. A FRIDGE FOR EVERYONE WHO’S HUNGRY
  31. OLD SCHOOL FOSSIL FUEL ECONOMY VS. NEW SCHOOL CLEAN ENERGY ECONOMY
  32. ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE IS THE TOP SOCIAL JUSTICE PRIORITY
  33. IN 2020, DID “BIG GREEN” BECOME LESS WHITE?
  34. CLIMATE ACTION CAN POWER OUR RECOVERY
  35. IN PANDEMIC, AN HBCU DOES IT BETTER
  36. A DANGEROUS LACK OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE PROTECTIONS
  37. HOW FAST CAN A BIDEN PRESIDENCY MOVE ON CLIMATE ISSUES?
  38. CRAFTING A BLACK-DRIVEN CORONAVIRUS AND CLIMATE “STIMULUS” AGENDA
  39. Penn to donate $100 million to Philadelphia school district to help public school children
  40. BLACK ECOLOGIES IN TIDEWATER VIRGINIA
  41. WHAT IS “FROM THE SOURCE REPORTING?”
  42. LEADERSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
  43. THE ECOWURD SUMMIT LAUNCH
  44. National Geographic Virtual Photo Camp: Earth Stories Aimed to Elevate Indigenous Youth Voices
  45. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2020
  46. TOO MANY NATURAL GAS SPILLS
  47. GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
  48. BLACK VOTERS ARE THE ECO-VOTERS CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ARE LOOKING FOR
  49. CANNABIS PROFIT & BLACK ECONOMY
  50. THE NATURE GAP
  51. BLACK PEOPLE NEED NATURE
  52. WHAT IS TREEPHILLY?
  53. IS AN OBSCURE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE IN HARRISBURG DOING ENOUGH?
  54. AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM’S RACIST ROOTS
  55. “THERE’S REALLY A LOT OF QUIET SUFFERING OUT THERE
  56. “WE NEED TO GET INTO THE SUPPLY CHAIN”
  57. “AN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW THAT GIVES YOU A VOICE”
  58. URBAN PLANNING AS A TOOL FOR WHITE SUPREMACY
  59. HEAT WAVES REMIND US CLIMATE CHANGE IS STILL HERE
  60. Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
  61. IN PANDEMIC, MAKING SURE PEOPLE EAT & HOW HBCUs HELP
  62. WE’RE NOT DONE, YET – MORE ACCOUNTABILITY IS NEEDED AT THE PES REFINERY SITE
  63. COVID-19 IS LAYING WASTE TO RECYCLING PROGRAMS
  64. THE PHILADELPHIA HEALTH EQUITY GAPS THAT COVID-19 EXPOSED
  65. THE POWER OF NEW HERBALISM
  66. THERE’S NO RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
  67. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit
  68. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit 2020 Press Release
  69. Too Much Food At Farms, Too Little Food At Stores
  70. THE LINK BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION & COVID-19
  71. CORONAVIRUS REVEALS WHY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS STILL THE CRITICAL ISSUE OF OUR TIME
  72. FROM KATRINA TO CORONAVIRUS, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
  73. COVID-19 SHOWS A BIGGER IMPACT WHERE BLACK PEOPLE LIVE
  74. THE CORONAVIRUS CONVERSATION HAS GOT TO GET A LOT MORE INCLUSIVE THAN THIS
  75. MEDIA’S CLIMATE CHANGE COVERAGE KEEPS BLACK PEOPLE OUT OF IT
  76. “WE DON’T HAVE A CULTURE OF PREPAREDNESS”
  77. PHILADELPHIA HAS A FOOD ECONOMY
  78. HOW URBAN AGRICULTURE CAN IMPROVE FOOD SECURITY IN U.S. CITIES
  79. MAPPING THE LINK BETWEEN INCARCERATION & FOOD INSECURITY
  80. PHILLY’S JAILS ARE, LITERALLY, MAKING PEOPLE SICK
  81. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2019
  82. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit
  83. “We Can’t Breathe: Zulene Mayfield’s Lifelong War with Waste ‘Managers’”
  84. “Is The Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?” by David Love
  85. “The Dangerous Connection Between Climate Change & Food” an interview with Jacqueline Patterson and Adrienne Hollis
  86. “An Oil Refinery Explosion That Was Never Isolated” by Charles Ellison
  87. “Philly Should Be Going ‘Community Solar'” an interview w/ PA Rep. Donna Bullock
  88. “Is The Litter Index Enough?” an interview w/ Nic Esposito
  89. “How Sugarcane Fires in Florida Are Making Black People Sick” an interview w/ Frank Biden
  90. Philly Farm Social – Video and Pictures
  91. #PHILLYFARMSOCIAL GETS REAL IN THE FIELD
  92. THE LACK OF DIVERSE LEADERS IN THE GREEN SPACE Environmental Advocacy Organizations – especially the “Big Green” – Really Need More Black & Brown People in Senior Positions
  93. PLASTIC BAG BANS CAN BACKFIRE … WHEN YOU HAVE OTHER PLASTICS TO CHOOSE FROM
  94. WE REALLY NEED POLITICAL STRATEGISTS LEADING ON CLIMATE CHANGE – NOT ACADEMICS
  95. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN A MUCH MORE CLIMATIC WORLD
  96. A SMALL GERMANTOWN NON-PROFIT “TRADES FOR A DIFFERENCE”
  97. IS PHILLY BLAMING ITS TRASH & RECYCLING CRISIS ON BLACK PEOPLE?
  98. BUT WHAT DOES THE GREEN NEW DEAL MEAN FOR BLACK PEOPLE?
  99. HOW GREEN IS PHILLY’S “GREENWORKS” PLAN?
  100. The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy event recap #ecoWURD #phillyisgreen
  101. Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists
  102. RENAMING “GENTRIFICATION”
  103. FOUR GOVERNORS, ONE URBAN WATERSHED IN NEED OF ACTION
  104. JUST HOW BAD IS THE AIR HURTING PHILLY’S BLACK FAMILIES?
  105. EcoWURD Presents:The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy
  106. IF YOU ARE LOW-INCOME OR HOMELESS, THE POLAR VORTEX IS LIKE A FORM OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
  107. NOT JUST FLINT: THE WATER CRISIS IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
  108. DO THE TRAINS STOP RUNNING? THE SHUTDOWN’S IMPACT ON MASS TRANSIT
  109. BLACK WOMEN & THE TROUBLE WITH BABY POWDER
  110. A WHITE COLLAR CRIME VICTIMIZING NICETOWN
  111. IN NORTH CAROLINA, CLIMATE CHANGE & VOTER SUPPRESSION WORKED HAND-IN-HAND
  112. LOW-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS WOULD GAIN THE MOST FROM GREEN ROOFS
  113. YOUR OWN HOOD: CLOSING THE GENERATIONAL GREEN DIVIDE IN BLACK PHILADELPHIA
  114. THE PRICE OF WATER: LITERAL & FIGURATIVE THIRST AT WORK
  115. THAT CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT TRUMP DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE? YEAH, WELL, IT’S THE LAW
  116. RACIAL & ETHNIC MINORITIES ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO WILDFIRES
  117. NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS Philly Has a Cigarette Butt Problem
  118. HOW SUSTAINABLE CAN PHILLY GET?
  119. USING AFROFUTURISM TO BUILD THE KIND OF WORLD YOU WANT
  120. UNCOVERING PHILLY’S HIDDEN TOXIC DANGERS …
  121. WILL THE ENVIRONMENT DRIVE VOTERS TO THE POLLS? (PART I)
  122. ARE PHILLY SCHOOLS READY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?
  123. 🎧 SEPTA CREATES A GAS PROBLEM IN NORTH PHILLY
  124. 🎧 BREAKING THE GREEN RETAIL CEILING
  125. That’s Nasty: The Cost of Trash in Philly
  126. 🎧 How Can You Solarize Philly?
  127. 🎧 “The Environment Should Be an Active, Living Experience”
  128. Philly’s Lead Crisis Is Larger Than Flint’s
  129. Despite What You Heard, Black Millennials Do Care About the Environment
  130. Hurricanes Always Hurt Black Folks the Most
  131. Are You Going to Drink That?
  132. The Origins of ecoWURD
  133. We Seriously Need More Black Climate Disaster Films
  134. 🎧 Why Should Philly Care About a Pipeline?
  135. 🎧 Not Just Hotter Days Ahead… Costly Ones Too
  136. Philly’s Big and Dangerous Hot Mess

Where Is All That Extra Plastic Going?   

Brian J. Love & Julie Rieland | The Conversation

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.

Many items designated as reusable, communal or secondhand have been temporarily barred to minimize person-to-person exposure. This is producing higher volumes of waste.

Grocers, whether by state decree or on their own, have brought back single-use plastic bags. Even IKEA has suspended use of its signature yellow reusable in-store bags. Plastic industry lobbyists have also pushed to eliminate plastic bag bans altogether, claiming that reusable bags pose a public health risk.

As researchers interested in industrial ecology and new schemes for polymer recycling, we are concerned about challenges facing the recycling sector and growing distrust of communal and secondhand goods. The trends we see in the making and consuming of single-use goods, particularly plastic, could have lasting negative effects on the circular economy.

Recyclers Under Pressure

Since March 2020, when most shelter-in-place orders began, sanitation workers have noted massive increases in municipal garbage and recyclables. For example, in cities like Chicago, workers have seen up to 50 percent more waste.  [ecoWURD note: Trash collection in Philadelphia more than doubled in some neighborhoods, see Billy Penn for more]

According to the Solid Waste Association of North America, U.S. cities saw a 20 percent average increase in municipal solid waste and recycling collection from March into April 2020. Increased trash can be attributed partly 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.

Although higher volumes of recyclables are being set on the curb, budget deficits are squeezing recycling programs. Many municipalities are struggling with multimillion-dollar shortfalls. Some communities, such as Rock Springs, Wyoming, and East Peoria, Illinois, have cut recycling programs.

And these stresses are testing a business already faced uncertainty.

Turmoil in Scrap Markets

The global recycling economy has suffered since 2018 as first China and then other Asian nations banned imports of low-quality scrap – often meaning improperly cleaned food packaging and poorly sorted recyclable materials. As in any business, the value of raw recyclables is linked to supply and demand. Without demand from nations like China, which formerly took up to 700,000 tons of U.S. scrap annually, recyclers have scrambled to stay in business.

The pandemic has boosted prices for some materials. One industry leader told us that between February and May 2020, prices doubled for recycled paper and tripled for recycled cardboard. These shifts reflect higher demand for tissue products and shipping packaging under shelter-in-place orders.

However, he also reported that prices for the most-recycled categories of reclaimed plastics were at 10-year lows. An influx of cheap oil has driven the raw material cost of oil-derived virgin plastics to their lowest levels in decades, outcompeting recycled feedstocks.

Difficult Economics

Ideally, revenues from recycling offset municipalities’ costs for collecting and disposing of solid wastes. However, given worker safety concerns, low market prices for scrap materials, a slowed economy and cheaper alternatives for disposal, many communities and businesses across the U.S. have temporarily suspended collection of recyclables and bottle deposits.

Meanwhile, as the commercial sector slowed, the distribution of waste generation changed. As people have spent more time producing waste at home, waste collectors implemented new procedures to protect their employees from infection.

Recycling is a very hands-on process that requires workers to manually sort out items from the collection stream that are unsuitable for mechanical processing. Workers and waste collection companies have raised many safety questions about recycling during the pandemic.

Precautions like social distancing and use of personal protective equipment have become commonplace among waste collectors and sorters, though concerns remain. Sorters are increasingly relying on automation, but implementation can be costly and takes time.

Collections on Pause

Based on monitoring since 2017 by the trade publication Waste Dive, nearly 90 curbside recycling programs had experienced or continue to experience a prolonged suspension over the past several years. About 30 of these suspensions have occurred since January 2020.On a broader scale, it’s not clear how much more waste Americans are currently producing during shutdowns. Commercial and residential waste aren’t directly comparable. For example, a granola bar wrapper thrown away at the office is tallied differently than if discarded at home.

It is also challenging to quantify the effects of the pandemic while it is still unfolding. Historically, waste output from the commercial and industrial sectors has far outweighed the municipal stream. With many offices and business closed or operating at low levels, total U.S. waste production could actually be at a record low during this time. However, data on commercial and industrial wastes are not readily available.

At the California-based Peninsula Sanitary Service, which serves the Stanford University community, total tonnage was down 60 percent in March. The company attributes this drop to reduced commercial waste, particularly from construction. Similarly, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, noted a 10 percent decrease year over year of waste collection levels for April.

More Plastic Trash

As cities and industries reopen in the coming months, new data will show the pandemic’s effects on consumer habits and waste generation. But regardless of total volume, the mix of materials in household wastes has shifted given the new ubiquity of single-use plastic containers, online shopping packaging and disposable gloves, wipes and face masks. Many of these new staples of pandemic life are made from plastics that are simply not worth recycling if there are any other disposal options.

Today Americans are trying to balance their physical well-being against ever-mounting piles of plastic waste. At a time when reducing and reusing could be dangerous, and recycling economics are unfavorable, we see a need for better options, such as more compostable packaging that is both safer and more sustainable.

 

Brian J. Love is a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan and Julie Rieland is a PhD Candidate in Macromolecular Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan