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The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting the recycling sector, like all other sectors of the economy today.  For recycling industries, the ripple effects of this global outbreak include service disruptions, closures and shifts in the volume of recycled materials, along with ongoing diligence in protecting the health of waste and recycling workers.  With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other state and federal entities, and with advocacy from industry trade associations, the recycling industry is responding to COVID-19 to serve customers, suppliers, employees and the communities in which they operate.

The virus threatens some recycling programs because of the possible interruption of curbside collections.  Some municipalities have temporarily suspended these collections because of decreased staff and because of the contamination risk to waste and recycling workers.  In response to this, trade associations like the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) have all issued guidance on the handling of solid waste during the pandemic. These “best practices” tips summarize CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks, is sufficient for the collection of solid waste and recyclables.

With many states closing non-essential businesses to slow down the virus spread, the recycling industry has been included in the list of businesses considered as essential critical infrastructure.  These businesses are allowed to continue operation because they provide services important to the health and safety of the population and the economic and national security of the United States.  The recycling industry provides raw materials essential to the supply chain of the “Critical Manufacturing Sector” designated by the Department of Homeland Security.  On March 18, ISRI sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, outlining why the recycling industry must be on the list of essential businesses allowed to operate during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.  Continued business operation must be teamed with industry practices to help slow the spread of covid-19 and support the public health.

Supporting the Recycling Industry

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ScrapWare has operated remotely for years.

Supporting the recycling industry are software companies, like ScrapWare Corporation in Rockville, MD. Providing and supporting software for the scrap metal recycling industry is classified as essential business as it is Information Technology.  ScrapWare has notified its customers of its ongoing operation, reminding them that they have for years operated remotely.  The team supporting ScrapWare’s software is prepared to stand behind them and assist them through these challenging times.

Trade associations like ISRI, NWRA and SWANA have published resources on their websites for waste and recycling companies to use to keep their employees safe from the virus during this time.  On ISRI’s website, for instance, they recently posted “Guidance to Help Recyclers Operate Safely.”  This document compiles information from the CDC, OSHA and other expert health organizations. A brief summary of the document is below:

Basic Individual Hygiene Practices – outlines guidance to reduce person-to-person spread with practices highlighted by media and government in recent weeks.  Such practices as handwashing for 20 seconds, staying at least 6 feet away from other people and covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.  The CDC website has posters in PDF format that can be used to hang in workplaces to remind employees of these practices.

General Safety Checklist for Recycling Operations

This is a 12-point plan for keeping employees, customers and visitors safe.   Here is a summary of the points from ISRI’s document:

  1. Tell all employees who are sick to stay home.
  2. Consider developing procedures for immediately isolating people who have symptoms of COVID-19.
  3. Consider whether any employees can work remotely.
  4. Keep safe distances.  Ideas include staggering breaks for employees and discouraging workers from sharing phones, desks, tools and equipment when possible.
  5. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.  This includes equipment controls and tool handles.
  6. Consider how scale tickets, shipping documents and other paper work are handled.  Immediately wash hands after handling paperwork.  If employees use electronic devices, they should be disinfected after a customer has handled it and the employee should immediately wash hands.
  7. Ensure continued use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including face shields and gloves.  Make sure face shields and protective eyewear are cleaned frequently.
  8. Review engineering controls for ways to minimize exposure.  Considerations include: installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards and drive-through windows for customer service.
  9. Document all steps taken to keep everyone safe.
  10. Consider options for safe handling of used beverage containers given uncertainty about how long the virus lives on plastic and glass.  The document outlines a number of possible suggestions.
  11. Constantly remind employees to stay focused.
  12. Conserve safety supplies.

The entire document can be found on ISRI’s website along with other resources to help recyclers deal with business, government and financial uncertainty.

The recycling industry plays a vital role in public health and the manufacturing supply chain.  It provides employment for people to support their families and offers important environmental services to communities.  The industry will continue to operate and serve its stakeholders, implementing these guidelines to persevere during these challenging and trying times and also strengthen itself for the long term.    

About ScrapWare Corporation: Since 1989, Rockville, Maryland-based ScrapWare Corporation has been the software of choice for the recycling industry. Its ease of installation and simplicity saves users time and money, while helping them achieve compliance and maintain accurate business insights. With state-of-the-art functionality that‘s tailored to each organization’s unique requirements, ScrapWare is an advanced dynamic software solution that alleviates the most pressing recycling industry worries. For more information, please call (301) 517-8500 or visit