Other’s Opinion: Don’t lose sight of recycling

Published 6:14 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

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The Free Press, Mankato

The pandemic has changed many things, including creating a mountain of new challenges in our effort to recycle more and put less in landfills.

Just the health-care setting and health related products alone created a massive surge in waste. The World Health Organization estimates 52 billion disposable face masks were produced in 2020 with an estimated 1.6 billion of them ending up in the oceans.

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That has added to the at least 14 million tons of plastic that ends up in the ocean every year, most washing off city streets and from shorelines.

There have also been an estimated 65 billion single-use gloves trashed monthly during the pandemic, most ending up in landfills or incinerators.

Health-care facilities have seen their waste volumes increase by three to four times during the pandemic and in many cases they’ve had a 10-fold increase.

There hasn’t been much the public or health care could do about the jump in personal protection waste as the masks, gloves and other protective equipment were necessary.

But the pandemic also altered a lot of other lifestyle patterns that have added challenges to cutting waste.

With many people working from home and because people now order takeout or delivered food more often, the use of take-out containers — many of which can’t be recycled — has jumped dramatically.

The added stress on the waste/recycling system only adds to a big challenge the American recycling market was already facing.

Prior to the pandemic China stopped accepting most U.S. plastics for recycling. Prior to the ban, 70% of plastics collected for recycling in the U.S. were sold and shipped to Chinese processors.

That left local recycling markets flooded with recycled material that had previously been shipped to China. This caused the value of some materials such as glass to plummet and disrupted recyclable markets.

In spite of the challenges, we can’t let up on efforts to reduce landfill waste and increase recycling. Recycling means fewer raw materials need to be used to make products and reduces the already overtaxed landfills.

The pandemic has permanently altered a lot of things in society. Let’s not make backsliding on recycling and waste reduction one of them.