The pandemic has made many people change their usual behaviors – from shifts in routine such as going to work to a more flexible work-from-home setup, to how people do their usual shopping.
The pandemic has been a surprising change for the environment with less greenhouse gases in the air resulting in better air quality due to heavy industries shutting down and less cars out on the road. There've been many photos circulating of rivers once murky and filled with pollutants becoming suddenly crystal clear, or cities suddenly being populated by forest animals and a variety of birds. However, what some people may not realize is that despite all this news, there’s an even bigger garbage crisis that the world is currently facing.
An existing recycling problem
When before, recycling in itself wasn't the most economically feasible, the coming of the pandemic even rendered what used to be classic recyclables such as cans and bottles, into trash headed straight to the dump. Many recycling companies have stopped their services due to health and safety concerns, which worsened the already existing problem.
Some hurdles that the recycling industry has been facing all added up and worsened further by the pandemic. Because plastic is oil, the fall of oil prices in the recent years have made plastic really easy to produce. This disrupts the economics of recycling as a recycling operation has to get revenue over the costs of gathering the waste and processing it. With the oil prices taking a hit with the pandemic, it has become more expensive to do recycling more than ever.
The other is that the quality of waste is going down. A phenomenon known as “lightweighting” has been happening even before the onset of the global coronavirus crisis. The fact that plastic bottles are getting thinner in quality, makes the manufacturer more profitable. This is connected to the first fact that leads the recycling industry to be less profitable.
The pandemic’s effects
Single-use plastics are more popular than ever with consumers panic buying items such as water bottles, hand sanitizers, tissues, sanitizing wipes, and food. Practices have shifted too, with restaurant patrons opting more for take-out or delivery, their food being served in individual plastic or Styrofoam containers, and people being discouraged from bringing their own reusable shopping bags or even reusable cups in coffee shops.
Recycling has taken a hard hit with the pandemic, with curbside recycling programs in several counties and local governments halted. Recycling drives are faced with the challenge of figuring out how to protect their workers who may be exposed to the virus from handling the waste.
Added to this equation is the surge in hospitalizations during this time of the pandemic which has resulted to more waste.
Recycling is not the solution to this problem of waste. Consumers were always led to believe that they should be the ones recycling because it was their fault that this problem got bigger to begin with. The industry as a whole is to blame for producing so much single-use plastic, and every new story of scientists digging up plastic pollution found inside sea creatures is enough to show that the current status quo with plastic was never sustainable. In spite of this, what is needed is a shift in human behavior in seeing that plastic is also a resource and not just waste.
Measures to reduce waste
Food is another type of waste that can be reduced. By making the most out of the food that is bought, freezing foods to extend its shelf life, and trying to work around leftovers, we’re already reducing food waste. A nation-wide survey in Canada shows that while there is a 24% household increase in buying food, on the other hand, 94% of Canadians are motivated to reduce their household’s avoidable food waste. Smart purchasing of food can also be practiced such as avoiding overbuying perishable food especially if they come packaged in non-recyclable means, and opting instead for canned goods.
Shifting away from single use plastics is a good way to start. While people may think having things easily disposable lessens the risk, it adds up to the problem of trash. Throwing disposables takes the problem out of your hands but adds it to the environmental problem. In line with keeping yourself and your belongings sanitized as a good precautionary measure, it would be better to use reusable bags, straws, containers, and cutlery instead. Buying food such as fruits and vegetables that usually come wrapped in plastic may be avoided by instead buying them unwrapped and just taking the time to wash them at home. This is a good practice that saves money and helps in contributing to saving the environment also supports Canada’s shift to a zero plastic waste initiative, with the government looking to ban these harmful single-use plastic items. And whether staying indoors or going out, steer clear of bottled water. A compact and efficient water filtration system such as the IVO Water Purifier is guaranteed to give you clean and great-tasting water while helping you reduce your plastic waste. Be safe at the time of the pandemic, but also be smart about creating less waste for the environment.