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Despite more online shopping and take-out, recycling and trash hasn’t changed much during pandemic

People out at the Rosewood Recycling Center in Anchorage
People out at the Rosewood Recycling Center in Anchorage(Taylor Clark)
Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 9:29 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For almost a year, restaurants have been doing more take-out and delivery, there has been more online shopping, more mask-wearing and using more hand sanitizer.

Solid Waste Services Recycling Coordinator Suzanna Caldwell said the biggest uptick they’ve seen as far as recycling goes is the cardboard boxes with people shopping online, and ordering boxes of food more often.

If there’s been more taking out the trash and recycling lately, she said the overall waste generated and sent to the landfill hasn’t changed much.

“We’re not seeing huge influxes in the amount of trash. It’s actually remained pretty level. You know, that said, we are generally seeing a little bit more residential trash,” Caldwell said, “but the flip-side is we’re not seeing as much on the commercial side because places just aren’t operating at the same level that they used to.”

Depending on what businesses looked at, they’ve been generating different kinds of trash and recyclables.

For example, management at the Rustic Goat said they only use about 250 recyclable to-go boxes and about 200 pizza boxes every week. Meanwhile, Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse management said they use about 500 rolls of plastic silverware, 1,000 plastic bags, 1,000 recyclable cardboard to go boxes and another 800 pizza boxes at Flattop Pizza every week.

Caldwell says cardboard pizza boxes can be recycled, even if it’s all greasy. However, Styrofoam boxes and plastic silverware are not. Caldwell recommends declining some of the packagings in deliveries, like plastic bags, if possible.

Some businesses offer less waste when ordering. Humpy’s management said they have a “go green” option for pick-up orders where no silverware or plastic bags are given when its picked up. It’s a win-win, according to the manager, because it creates less waste and cuts back on costs.

Additionally, for online shopping orders, Caldwell said that many of the packages come with Styrofoam to protect the products. She said the Styrofoam should go in the trash and the boxes into recycling.

Then there is medical supply waste, a lot of which cannot be recycled, according to Caldwell.

Spokespeople with Providence Alaska Medical Center said they have used about 35,000 masks for universal masking and another 2,000 plastic face shields every month during the pandemic. Caldwell said neither items are recyclable.

“They’re just made out of a material that can’t be recycled,” Caldwell said. “So yeah, those should be thrown away in the regular garbage. Also, any latex gloves, anything like that, those are not recyclable, so be sure to keep those out of the recycling, out of the curbside bin, or anything like that.”

However, Caldwell said one common pandemic item that usually can be recycled are the bottles from hand sanitizer, if made with recyclable plastic.

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