Recently, while sorting recyclables at home, my 15-year-old expressed frustration with our overflowing trash and recycling bins. He pointed out that because COVID has forced us to remain at home so much more, we are no longer spreading our waste between home, school, work and public trash receptacles and recycling bins. Instead, he observed, almost everything we now use and eat is at home. And my family is not unique.
More Household Plastic Waste Than Ever
According to The Food Marketing Institute’s recent report U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2020, consumers exceeded their February, pre-COVID lockdown weekly household grocery budgets by an average of 33% and food retail’s share of food spending rose from 50% in February to 63% in March and then 68% in April, returning to levels not seen since the 1990s.
As a mom of three—two of them teenagers– I count my family as solidly in the group buying more provisions for the home. My Instacart orders have increased. I order so much from Amazon, I no longer have any idea what may show up each day. And, I try to support local restaurants as much as I can by ordering no-contact food delivery 1-2 times per week.
I’m not managing my daughter’s expectations very well. At this point, if Alexa doesn’t tell her a package is coming every day, she thinks something is wrong. 🤦🏽♀️ #darnyouCOVID
With all this consumption happening in one place the impact has been an overflow of recyclables and trash at home. In fact, a survey of U.S. residents on Plastic Packaging Facts on Twitter found that a majority of folks are experiencing the same.
Since quarantine orders began keeping your family at home, has your household taken in more packaging from groceries & consumer goods, less packaging, or around the same amount?
— Plastic Pkg Facts (@PlasticPkgFacts) June 17, 2020
It’s a data point illustrated in a growing number of news stories. In April the Chicago Sun Times reported that sanitation workers are handling 50% more waste than before stay-at-home orders. In Baltimore, officials report a 22% increase in curbside trash that they’ve attributed to residents being at home.
Tips and Sustainability Practices at Home
Rather than becoming overwhelmed, this can be a great opportunity to have conversations with your family about consumption, a moment for shared reflection and a time to implement better waste management and recycling practices at home. Below are just a few tips on how to be more sustainable at home and reduce plastic waste:
First, start by asking questions
Make a list of questions you can sit down and discuss together.
- Are there opportunities to reduce waste?
- How can you increase the use of reusable packaging at home?
- Might it be time to set up a home composting program?
- How can you recycle more?
Engage your family in sustainability at home
- Involve asking your kids for ideas and suggestions. Appoint one or more of your children as Sustainability Director(s) of the house and have them conduct research (great summer project, btw) on how to implement greater sustainability at home. Have them visit your city’s website and read up on the local curbside recycling program.
- Have them look for ways to do better at home. Are you gathering up all the bottles, containers and other recyclables, in every room? How can you improve?
- Do you need more in-home recycling bins? Would signage help? You might be surprised at what you’re missing, and you’ll be so proud of your kids for doing the work to figure it out.
I almost forgot my collection of empty laundry bottles for ♻️ but the girls made a mad dash to grab them from the house. Thank you @DCDPW ❤️ for letting them toss them in the truck! I noticed a disturbing number of bags in the truck DO NOT bag recyclables folks! Keep items loose! pic.twitter.com/TraqBtQ9ZS
— Allyson Finch Wilson (@allyson_wilson) June 23, 2020
Properly recycle plastic bags, wraps, packaging, and film
- A major area of under–recycled material is plastic product wrap and bags. These traditionally do not go in your curbside bin but do go back to store-front bins at participating local grocers and retailers. You may not give them much thought but once you do, you’ll be amazed at how much of this material you end up with, especially if you shop at bulk retailers like Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club.
- Wraps that come around pallets of drinks, diapers, bathroom tissue and more, and bags like those around fruits and veggies, bread, etc. can all be recycled storefront. To learn more and find a list of soft plastics that can be recycled as well as a list of participating drop-off locations, visit www.plasticfilmrecycling.org
Look for ways to choose products in recycled, recyclable, reusable packaging and/or less packaging, where you can
- Look for ways to choose products in recycled, recyclable, reusable packaging and/or less packaging, where you can. It’s important to bear in mind that packaging is most often used in the first place because it helps protect groceries and other goods from the moment they are created or grown until they arrive to you.
- All packaging has an environmental footprint. But packaging designers are working hard to design packaging more sustainably. They work to design using less material, increase recyclability, develop reusable formats or increase the amount of recycled content included.
- Increasingly, consumers are choosing what works best for their lifestyle. If it makes sense for you, seek out brands that offer packaging with refill subscription services to help reduce waste.
With a little work, you can take charge of your increasing amount of household waste. Stay safe and remember to help sanitation stay safe; used masks, gloves and wipes should always be deposited in the garbage, with ties and lids in place to prevent spillage. Nothing that could be contaminated should be placed in the recycling bin. Recyclables often require human sorting. Please do not place masks, gloves, wipes, or any items that may be contaminated in the recycling bin to avoid exposing workers who handle recycling.
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