The Plague of Uncertainty: The Pandemic’s Unpredictable Impacts on Recycling and Its Markets (Commentary)

Read the full story from Waste360.

At the end of January, I spoke on recycling markets at the Connecticut Recyclers Coalition Annual Conference. I never uttered the word “pandemic”. So much for my predictive abilities.

In spite of that, they asked me to do a webinar at the end of this month on the pandemic’s impact on recycling markets. Much of its impact on the industry is well known. Residential trash and recyclables are up, commercial trash and recyclables are down. Because businesses, as a whole, generate more of both, overall waste and recycling generation are down. Due to social distancing and other requirements, MRF workers are being separated and line speed has slowed. Worker shortages have been a problem for some collectors and processors.

Our waste and recycling streams have changed because what we buy has changed. We shop online more because so many physical stores are closed. Our use of grocery delivery is up by 400 percent, after spiking at 560 percent. Delivery of meals from restaurants is up 50 percent.  At the same time apparel sales are down 46 percent. I don’t think face masks are included in that category, but they are in demand now. Sales of office supplies went up by six percent because many office workers now work from home.  

Perhaps most importantly, consumer spending peaked on March 11 and was down 25 percent by May 12 (see here for a fascinating look at these changes). As we have less money to spend, we will inevitably buy fewer things.

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