Recycling Industry Faces Labor Shortages

January 17, 2022   |   Blog

Across the economy, labor shortages are causing disruptions. Stores have shorter hours, restaurants have partially closed dining rooms, and schools are hosting classes online. 

The recycling industry is no exception. 

Atlanta, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Nashville, Washington D.C., and other cities have all had to alter – or completely halt – their curbside recycling collection. Almost every city has cited staffing issues as the main culprit behind the disruptions. 

The waste management industry has been struggling with staffing issues since 2019, but the new year has brought with it a perfect storm of challenges. Almost every industry is facing a shortage of workers. The omicron variant of COVID-19 is hyper-contagious and many workers have been forced to leave the workplace to isolate themselves. And a few cities including Anaheim and Seattle are facing worker strikes led by the Teamsters. 

All of these issues are part of larger problems. What can we do to minimize the impact of these disruptions today? Here are four things you can do to make a difference: 

  1. Make sure everything in your recycling bin is allowed in your municipal system. If the recycling is only going to be collected a few times, you want to ensure no accidental, non-recyclable items end up in your blue bin. (Check out these blogs on how to recycle plastic and other materials.)
  2. Pay attention to the dates your recycling will be collected. If your recycling collection is reduced to monthly pick-ups or moved to a different date, be sure that you do not miss your collection window. 
  3. Prioritize recycling smaller items like water bottles and soda cans, rather than big bulky items that could take up all the space in your recycling bin while you wait for collection. Break down any cardboard boxes or other large items to make sure you can fit as much as possible into your bin between collection windows. 
  4. Find out if your community has a recycling drop-off center during times of collection disruption. Many cities have places where you can deposit bottles, cans, bags, and other items for recycling, even if the regular collection is not occurring. 

Staffing difficulties are a problem for every industry. We need to do what we can to minimize the effects of these challenges, especially for important industries like recycling.