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Acting and Recycling Responsibly in a COVID-19 World

With the recent increased spending on groceries, curbside food pick-up, and home delivery you are likely ending up with more and more items that need to be recycled. In particular, plastic bags. To prevent introducing outside contaminants, many retailers are not allowing customers to bring reuseable bags into stores. The good news is you still have environmentally friendly options during these times. 

Here are some ways you can make a difference as you navigate COVID-19

Tip 1: Pack your groceries at your car.

  • While you can't currently bring resusable bags into all grocery stores, you can keep your reusable bags in your car.
  • Once you check out, walk or cart your groceries out to your car and bag your groceries in your own trunk.
  • This is a great and simple way to reduce you impact on the environment.

Tip 2: Ask for paper bags when you shop.

  • Paper bags are still an option at grocery stores and are easily recyclable.
  • With so many of us working from home, these paper grocery bags are a great way to collect other recyclable paper items from your new home office. 
  • You can use the paper bags for at-home art projects for students away from classrooms.
  • As a reminder, you should never bag recyclable paper items in plastic bags. Sorting facilities are not set up to manage loose paper inside plastic bags. Check out the Stick with the Six list to learn more on how to recycle responsibly.

Tip 3: Find an alternate use for plastic bags. Did you know that most plastic bags are reused multiple times. Here are some simple things you can do to reuse your plastic bags:

  • Instead of buying trash can liners, reuse grocery bags in your bathroom and home office trash cans.
  • You can also collect kitchen compost and scraps in a plastic bags, and then just empty the bag into your compost bin.
  • If you are out for a walk with your dog, bring a plastic bag along instead of purchasing pet waste plastic bags. 

Tip 4: Save plastic bags and wraps so you can recycle them later.

  • Many people do not know that plastic bags can't go in your single-stream recycling bin. Plastic bags and wraps have grown to be the number one contaminate in the single-stream recycling process.
  • Normally, stores like Schnucks and Dierbergs have collection bins available for retuning plastic bags and wraps, however with COVID-19 these bins are temporarily suspended.
  • Instead of putting plastic bags and wraps where they don't belong (like your single-stream bin), or in the trash, simply set them aside and save them for recycling at a later date.
  • Take the opportunity to designate a special place in your house to collect plastic bags and wraps.
  • Cleaning house? You will likely end up with all kinds of recyclable items that don't go in your recycling bin, like old electronics, Holiday lights, and paint.
  • Make sure you dispose of these things properly. If you want to see a full list of everything that can be recycled and where they can be recycled, check out the Beyond the Blue Bin database.

Tip 5: Keep contamination out of single-stream recycling centers.

  • When you put your recycling bin out for collection, it is likely the last time you touch them, but the recycling process is really just beginning.
  • While you might not think about the single-stream sorting process, but each plant has workers that help sort and process materials.
  • Additionally, your bin, the trucks, and all the equipment should not contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
  • Because of health and safety concerns, you should never place any potentially contaminated items in your bin - this includes face masks, gloves, and any other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These items are not recyclable and they should be safely discarded in your regular trash.
  • Additionally, never dispose of hazardous waste or medical biohazards in your recycling bin or home trash. These items require special handling. Contact your local waste service provider to explore options for disposing of hazardous waste or medical biohazards.

Tip 6: Perform a Personal Waste Audit.

  • Being at home most of the time, are you noticing your trash bin filling up faster? It is easier than ever before to take a look at how much waste you are generating.
  • By looking at how much trash you are gnerating, and the type of trash and you generating, you can identify some simple changes that will lower your impact. 
  • Do you use paper towels? Try reusable and washable dish clothes. This is a great way to eliminate your use of paper towels while also reducing the amount of waste you generate. Consider composting. Food waste is the largest percentage of waste going into landfills, upwards of 2.1%. Composting is a simple change you can make. Look into using a service like Perennial City Composting - they'll provide you with a container that conveniently fits under most kitchen sinks and they get you on their schedule to come by and pick up your composted items.

These efforts are all inexpensive or free, and they are easy to do.