The Coronavirus Is Causing a Boom in Household Waste
Experts say increases in single-use plastic waste in particular threaten ‘recent gains’ in addressing a ‘major environmental problem’
Millions of people sheltering in place during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the household waste problem in the United States, according to experts on waste management. And even though most cities have relaxed their shelter-in-place orders and people have begun to leave their homes more, residential waste is still higher than in average years.
The increase in residential waste in cities could overflow existing landfills, leaving some cities looking for more space to hold the extra waste. Cities have put their recycling programs on hold temporarily or cut recycling programs entirely, exacerbating the problem. And the reemergence of single-use plastic — like plastic bags and utensils being used more in retail and restaurants — during the pandemic will lead to more carcinogenic plastic chemicals entering the environment.
“There has been a substantial increase in household waste generation given so many people [are] isolating at home,” Marian Chertow, PhD, associate professor of industrial environmental management and director for the Center for Industrial Ecology at Yale University. She said there’s been “a corresponding decrease in commercial waste as businesses and restaurants were shut down.” As millions of people shifted from working in offices, shopping at stores, and eating at restaurants to doing all of those things in their house almost exclusively, the waste they produced also shifted from entering the waste stream from all of those places to just one. At the same time, some consumers started ordering more takeout and shopping online for items they may have previously purchased at stores, which meant more food packaging and shipping materials in their trash bins.
Residential waste rose by 20% to 30%, depending on who you ask. Brandon Wright, a spokesperson for the National Waste and Recycling Association, says members of the organization, which include Waste Management (one of the largest waste management companies in the United States), have reported a 20% increase in the amount of residential waste collected…