If the boxes have been piling up at your home over the last few months, you are not alone.

"The stay-at-home orders have really changed what people put out on the sidewalk. We've seen a significant increase in both trash and recycling," said Ann Saurman, the manager of Allentown's Bureau of Recycling and Solid Waste.

Ann Saurman

Ann Saurman, the manager of Allentown's Bureau of Recycling and Solid Waste.  Credit: Ann Saurman.

The same is true across the nation, and our local communities are absorbing this cost.

Ann says when the city of Allentown put its 2020 budget together back in 2019, they didn't anticipate the increased costs for trash and recycling this year.

recycling truck

Recycling crews collect recyclables by hand in Allentown.  Credit: Ann Saurman.

The city pays about $300 a truck to recycle items, so you can imagine how their costs are piling up.  And, it's cheaper for the city to recycle items than it is for the city to send items to the landfill.

Ann says they're spending their budget very carefully so they can accommodate these extra costs.

total recycle

Recyclables enter Total Recycle's facility by truck.  Credit: Ann Saurman.

Besides talking about the impacts of COVID-19, we asked Ann some questions about recycling:

  • Is it ok to not flatten an online order box?

    “That shouldn't be a problem, but when you put it into a program for single stream recycling, please do not put in any of the bubble wrap because the cardboard is the recyclable part" says Ann.

  • Is there any way to recycle the bubble wrap?

    “Grocery stories!" Ann says you can put bubble wrap in with the plastic bags you take to a grocery store to recycle. The bubble wrap plastic is the same type of plastic as the plastic bags. Just pop the bubbles before you put the bubble wrap in a grocery store recycle bin.

bubble wrap

Bubble wrap from an online order box.

  • What about jars and cans with a little food residue in them?

    “A little bit [of food] is not an issue," says Ann.

food jar

A jar with a little food left in it.

  • What about if a jar is full with food?

    “You don’t want to put that in recycling, you would just want to throw that out.”

  • Do you recommend tearing off the greasy part of a pizza box?

    “Now you’re talking my language because I do that, I do tear away the greasy parts" says Ann.  If you box is clean enough to recycle the whole thing, Ann says to make sure the box is free of food and the plastic tables that come in the middle of some pizzas.

Pizza

While there can be grease or cheese on the bottom of a pizza box, the top part if often clean.

  • What else should not be recycled?

    “I’ve seen things like bowling balls, hoses, and blinds from window blinds.  All different things that people think they’ll handle it.” But, that is not the case.  It’s a real problem when those items get to the next step—the sorting facility.

Dont recycle

Some of these items should not be placed in recycle bins.

Total Recycle is a sorting facility in Berks County.  They get recyclables from communities all across the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania.

TJ, an executive at Total Recycle, said that long items like garden hoses, extension cords, holiday lights, ropes, and chains tangle in their machines. 

recycling

Items that get tangled in the machines at a sorting facility.  Credit: Ann Saurman.

Specifically, it causes their system to bind. Their recycling machines have a lot of rollers and those rollers need to be able to spin freely in the system.  Any long item will get tangled in the rollers.

These tangles cause a loss of production time, and their facility needs every minute they can get.  The business already runs around the clock.

Recycle Faclility

A worker in the plastics part of Total Recycle.

Over the years, their business has been growing, and that's a trend in the recycling industry.

TJ says, people have been recycling more and throwing away less every year.

COVID-19 has accelerated their business uptick this year.

soda can recycling

A closer look at the soda and beer can part of Total Recycle's facility.

So, it should come as no surprise that Total Recycle is hiring all position.

The contractor that hauls Allentown’s trash and recyclables, Waste Management, is also hiring, according to Ann.

Ann is also excited for what's to come in the world of recycling: “I look forward to the young children of tomorrow to see what they will come up with and how they can recycle more.”

If you're unsure if an item can be recycled, contact your local community's recycling coordinator.  If an item can't be recycled curbside, in most cases, your community will know how to recycle it, assuming it can be recycled.

Find out how COVID-19 has changed the recycling industry and learn some surprising recycling tips.

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