With more people working from home and students from Dartmouth sent home during the height of COVID, the Lebanon Regional Solid Waste Facility, which serves approximately 90,000 people in the Upper Valley, saw a decrease of commercial waste and recycling, but an increase in residential trash, especially as residents cleaned up their basements and attics. Amidst the COVID waste disposal shakeup, Lebanon logged their best revenue year for recycling in 2020, and by July of this year they’d already reached their recycling revenue estimates.
The Northeast Resource Recovery Association, a membership based nonprofit that helps towns and cities sell their recyclables, reported recently that their more than 400 members throughout New England, many in New Hampshire, recycled almost 50,000 tons in 2020. NRRA Executive Director Reagan Bissonnette says that is the equivalent of removing almost 22,000 passenger cars from the road for an entire year.
On top of environmental impact, increases in recycling rates can have economic gains for communities. Recycling is an income stream, whereas towns and cities pay to dispose of solid waste. “Recycling markets, recycling pricing is thriving right now, in part because of the pandemic and in part, independent of the pandemic,” Bissonnette reports.
As habits changed during the pandemic, so did recycling markets. For example, Bissonnette says the markets for cardboard and paper, which makes up over half of the residential recycling stream, shot up at the very beginning of the pandemic as businesses and schools closed, and therefore stopped using and supplying those recyclable materials. “The cardboard coming in our Amazon boxes to our homes became increasingly valuable because these companies still wanted to buy that material and turn it into new products,” Bissonnette says.