Thoughts on Creating a Sustainable World Post-Pandemic
By Emily Selleck, TVCR Board Secretary
May 19, 2020 Webinar sponsored by Waste 360 (Watch the full webinar HERE)
I hate plastics. And, frankly, I’m not fond of recycling. However, when I make myself think holistically about the supply chain of materials and how it fits into a sustainable circular economy, I understand and begin to appreciate plastics, and how recycling restores the circular supply chain by providing the fodder for many future products: collect materials (plastic, paper, metal, glass, etc.) > process those materials (some plastics will make clothing, others make piping) > design & manufacture products > consumer purchase and use > collect materials and etc. etc. For example, the demand for packaging has grown exponentially since the pandemic as consumers are purchasing more from their homes. Thus, there’s huge demand from domestic paper mills for office paper to turn into packaging.
Although commercial recycling has fallen off since the pandemic, residential recycling remains strong. Over the years, recycling has sniggled its way into our DNA – it’s become part of our culture. Which is a good thing at present as the need for packaging material as mentioned above has grown. As recycling is deemed an “essential business”, safety at processing plants has been pushed to the forefront: we’re seeing a trend to more automation and less “hands on” in the processing of recycled materials. This trend is expected to outlast the pandemic.
Other results of the pandemic are the deep dive in the oil markets and the volatility in secondary plastic markets. In addition, we’re seeing a decreasing need for virgin resins with the increased provision of recycled plastics. Both good trends for the environment! We’re probably always going to need some plastic in our lives (even I admit that), but for heaven’s sake, let’s recycle it to keep those virgin resins “virgin”!
Hence the value of Recycling Education. The more people know about the concept of a circular supply chain, the more they’re apt to do the right thing for themselves and the planet. Recycling is more than a community amenity, it’s input for the country’s manufacturing engine. Think of it – the pandemic has caused a run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Both are made from recycled materials – paper and the plastic pumps (and much of the sanitizing material is repurposed ethanol which now we’re spritzing rather than swizzling!)