To all the other disruptions caused by COVID-19, add this one: Around the world, bans on single-use plastics have been pushed back or paused and recycling centers have been shut down, just as the amount of plastic and other pandemic-related waste is surging. Along with disposable PPE items, including plastic gloves and masks, restaurants and hotels have turned to single-use plastic bottles, glasses and cups, plastic-wrapped plastic cutlery, and individually wrapped condiments to prevent the spread of disease.
Some organizations are continuing to push recycling efforts — and innovative responses to COVID-related waste — forward, including The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, which regularly recycles 27 different kinds of items, diverting 55-60 percent of waste that otherwise would go to local landfills. When the hotel reopened in June, it also launched a pilot project that is collecting the surgical face masks used by guests and staff and sending them to a recycling facility, where they are separated, shredded, and “densified” into material that can be used to make such products as composite lumber for shipping pallets. The pilot, a partnership with TerraCycle, a New Jersey–based recycling company, will test whether the project could be expanded to other large hotels and businesses.
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.
This story is part of Convene‘s September CMP Series package on ways the world has changed since COVID-19 and what we hope will stick once the pandemic is behind us.