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Should recycling programs be suspended during coronavirus outbreak?

Recycling, reusing and reducing during a worldwide outbreak

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Mar 25 · 4 min read
Photo credit: imordaf/Pixabay

I was confused when I walked outside to dump a paper bag’s worth of recyclables in my condominium’s recycle bin. Inside of one of the bins was a large garbage bag with a stuffed bear almost as tall as me. I sighed. Once again, I’ve turned into the garbage lady of the building (and as of Thursday, the new condo association president). As annoying as it is when residents dump their yard waste; mistake the bin for a compost container; or completely ignore the zillion signs about no dirty, greasy boxes or food waste, the coronavirus outbreak makes responsible recycling significantly more important.

By now, anyone with a recycling program knows the primary things that should go into one of these bins:

  • Plastic containers: bottles and containers with the numbers 1 and 2 (mainly), 3, 4, 5 or 7 (case-by-case basis depending on the company)
  • Glass: jars and bottles
  • Metal: aluminum, tin, or steel cans, foil and pie tins
  • Cartons: milk cartons, juice cartons and aseptic containers
  • Paper: flattened cardboard, office paper, file folders, magazines, catalogs, newspapers, junk mail, telephone books, etc.
Photo credit: maria_lulea/Pixabay

While recycling companies often ask that the containers be washed ahead of time (even if just a basic rinse to get rid of any leftover food), this is certainly necessary during an outbreak that has lead to 54,453 infections and 737 deaths. The carelessness of tenants and owners dumping trash into the nearest can was an annoyance before and had the potential to ruin perfectly acceptable recycling items. (I know this far too well after flipping over a garbage bin to remove a bag full of dirty diapers before it could stain almost-new cardboard boxes, bottles and jugs. The laziness of it all is disappointing. My biggest concern when this happened last year was “the cooties.”) Nowadays, it’s life threatening.

If you currently live in a neighborhood with a recycling program, you may want to contact your condo association president, management company or (if a homeowner) the waste management company to confirm what is still allowed to be picked up.

Photo credit: Skeeze/Pixabay

As of Mon., March 23, my current waste company will not pick up:

  • any e-waste (electronics)
  • appliances
  • bulky items or furniture (mattresses, couches, tables)
  • loose trash of any kind

Pre-coronavirus, these items could be picked up for an additional fee. Now? It’s not happening. And while recycling bins are intended to only include loose items (never in plastic bags), for the sake of the workers, this couldn’t be more important. One of the most common ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus (via CDC) is to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles). When waste management companies pick up recycled items, they already know that this item has been touched plenty of times. So on top of the garbage that careless residents dump on top of items that can be recycled, the recyclable item itself can now pose a threat.

Even as someone who tries to figure out how to recycle everything possible (or reuse it), I fully understand why recycling companies like Marshall County Recycling in Franklin, Tennessee suspended their program on Mon., March 16. According to WasteDive, residents are being asked to take their recyclables to a local company called Williamson County Recycling Centers or do the unthinkable — throw them in the trash.

Even the tree hugger in me understands why. However, as long as our waste management company will pick up recyclables, I will continue to follow the same sorting system I always have. In the meantime, hopefully all residents will get better at sorting responsibly to avoid workers being exposed to even more easily fixable problems. Whatever you do, stop dumping stuffed bears (or anything you’ve decided is “contaminated”) in the recycling bins. Clothing donation bins, they are not. And even if they were, germ-covered bears still wouldn’t make the cut.


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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

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15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast; Shamontiel.com

We Need to Talk

Let’s chat about my oddball thoughts on family, relationships and activism — with a dose of comedy, too.

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