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  • Writer's pictureThe Pink Elephant Lady

Recycling, Yard Waste, and Composting During the Pandemic

More than 60 communities in the U.S. have suspended curbside recycling due to COVID-19. In, Michigan, this includes Big Rapids, Isabella County, Kent County, Lincoln Park, and Saginaw. Many more communities have closed their drop-off centers, including Recycle Here in Detroit and SOCCRA in southeastern Oakland County, or are delaying the implementation of yard waste pick-up. Furthermore, 8 out of 10 states that have bottle deposit laws have either suspended or significantly changed their bottle return programs.

Did you know that under Michigan law, it's illegal to throw away returnable bottles? The Michigan Beverage Container Act of 1976 was updated in 2004 with a stipulation that prohibits beverage containers covered under the law from being disposed of in a landfill. It's also illegal to dispose of yard waste in landfills.

So, if curbside recycling is still being collected in your community (and if you live in Michigan, that is probably the case), then continue to put your recyclables in your bin as you normally would. Closing a drop-off center does not necessarily mean the community is no longer accepting or processing recycling at all. As far as returnable bottles and cans, you can choose to hang on to them for redemption post-pandemic, or put them in your recycle bin. But don't toss them!

The City of Detroit has suspended yard waste pick up until April 27th. The city's Department of Public Works has said that, If yard waste must be disposed of immediately, residents are encouraged to take their yard waste to any of the free drop-off locations listed here. GFL, which services dozens of southeastern Michigan cities, recently announced that it is indefinitely suspending yard waste collection during the pandemic, allow them to free up personnel and equipment to keep up with the massive amount of garbage being generated during the pandemic. If yard waste pick up has been suspended in your community, contact the city or visit its website to find out what, if anything, can be done with yard waste in the interim.


Sheltering in place and eating all meals at home are not the only things leading to the increase in garbage volume - people are spring cleaning, purging and tossing out massive amounts of household goods, generating double digit increases in garbage volumes, with some cities seeing an increase in volume as high as 30%. GFL said it has never seen such a tidal wave of garbage and the influx is slowing crews down. Trucks are having to dump their garbage three to five times a day as employees work 14 hour days. Other factors contributing to the uptick in landfilled garbage include:

  • Restaurants switching to carryout-only service

  • Prohibiting the use of reusable bags in some grocery stores

  • Prohibiting the use of refillable mugs and cups at retailers like Starbucks

  • The massive amount of used disposable PPE being generated by hospitals

Watch the video below to see medical needles being landfilled. Click HERE for a report on what it's like to work at a landfill during the pandemic.


Some materials recovery facilities (MRFs) say that their sorting facility layout does not allow for workers spaced far enough apart to comply with COVID-19 distancing requirements. Multiple communities have cited a shortage of incarcerated labor outsourced from local prisons as a key factor in suspending recycling operations. According to Waste Dive, "Incarcerated people are a high-risk population for COVID-19, given their confined quarters, and experts have warned the situation could become catastrophic if precautions aren't taken immediately. Many jails and prisons have banned visits in response to the crisis, in addition to limiting work — moves that are leading to municipal recycling suspensions."

Of course, the recycling industry was already in an era of massive upheaval BEFORE the global pandemic. COVID-19 is just making things worse. You've no doubt noticed the effect that the pandemic has had on gas prices. Low oil and gas prices mean recycling makes less and less sense economically - since plastic is made from oil, cheap oil means cheap plastic. And when oil is cheap, using virgin plastic makes more economic sense than using recycled plastic.


Under the governor's executive orders pertaining to COVID-19, recycling, composting, and waste hauling are considered essential activities. We suspended our compost drop-off program temporarily, because our retail store is now closed.

Composting can be done in one's own backyard or with a countertop bin, however, certain materials we accept in our drop-off program are not recommended for home compost piles, including meat, fats, oils, and certified compostable disposables (cups, bowls, etc.) Furthermore, the familiar green compostable bags used in kitchen countertop compost bins DO NOT break down in a home compost pile; the bags require an industrial composting facility.

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