woman holding bag of paper to recycle, looks upset

Many communities have paused curbside recycling pickups to protect workers from COVID-19. While losing your recycling service, even if only temporarily, is certainly an inconvenience, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the change: Much of the paper and plastic collected from your curbside recycling bins is sorted by hand.

Unknown contaminants on or in recycled items present a concern for recycling workers. Now, amid uncertainties about how long the coronavirus may remain viable on surfaces, workers risk exposure to COVID-19. Recycling is a hazardous job in the best of times.

Alternatives to Curbside Recycling Pickups

If your regular recycling pickup has been suspended, it’s tempting to toss your recyclables in the trash. After all, having to deal with one more obligation during this season of heavy lifting is more than many people are willing to handle.

Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to continue recycling, even if you don’t have community pickups to do the work for you. These efforts, once established, will become part of your daily routine instead of feeling like yet another task:

  • Collect your recyclables. If you have a garage, shed, basement, or other storage area to house weeks’ worth of recyclables, you can collect and sort items during suspended recycling, then place them on the curb for pickup once the service resumes.
  • Use things that don’t need to be recycled. Instead of buying orange juice in a plastic container, make fresh-squeezed juice and compost the rinds. Switch to an old-school, glass-bottled milk delivery service. Look for alternatives to the typical packaging of your favorite items.
  • Go to a recycling center. Do some research to find the recycling center nearest you that is open and accepting drop-offs. A monthly drop is doable for even the busiest families. And because you will want to avoid more trips than necessary, you’ll work even harder to find ways to minimize your use of non-recyclable items.

Improve the Safety of Community Recycling

You can do your part to make recycling safer for the recycling workers by implementing a few small but impactful measures in your home:

  • Clean out your recyclables. Many people balk at the idea of cleaning their trash, but rinsing out a milk jug, soft drink bottle, or soup can before you toss it cuts down on odors, germs, and a gross recycling bin. It’s also essential to do this basic cleaning and sorting to ensure the recycling system will be contamination-free. You’re not just doing your local recycling workers a courtesy with some quick pre-cleaning. You’re helping ensure the materials get recycled, as many recycling plants can’t handle materials that are dirty from leftover food.
  • Be precise about sorting. Break down boxes and stack them together. Plastic in one bin, paper in another, glass in a third. The less sorting recycling and refuse workers are forced to do, the less they touch the recycling in your bins or expose themselves to what lives on the surfaces of the items. (Hint: Put your recycling in attractive bins or baskets and you’ll be that much more encouraged to keep the receptacles tidy and the recyclables clean.)

If your recycling pickups have been suspended, add it to the list of things to be patient about during COVID-19. In the meantime, do your best to keep on contributing to the good of the Earth by recycling in your home.