Back to Top

Coronavirus Impacts on the Recycling Industry

Resource Recycling is keeping track of how the novel coronavirus is affecting the business of materials recovery and processing.

Below you’ll find all of our in-depth reporting and analysis on the topic, plus a growing list of resources for programs and businesses impacted by the pandemic. Be sure to subscribe to our free weekly e-newsletters or bookmark this page to see the latest updates. If you have news to share about how your program or business has been hit, contact our editorial staff at [email protected]

Online event dives into plastic markets, policy and more

April 14, 2021

By Editorial Staff

The 2021 Plastics Recycling Conference, held online, featured eight sessions over two days. Here are some of the talking points that caught our team’s attention.

CarbonLite files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

March 8, 2021

By Colin Staub

PET recycling firm CarbonLite and a subsidiary filed for bankruptcy, indicating the company plans to reorganize and continue operating. A company leader said market strife and COVID-19 impacts led to the decision.

Haulers enjoyed recyclables prices in 2020

March 2, 2021

By Jared Paben

Higher commodity prices boosted recycling revenues for Waste Management, Republic Services and North America’s other largest haulers last year, according to earnings reports.

Republic Services waste collection truck.

Trex reports higher sales and profits for 2020

February 24, 2021

By Jared Paben

COVID-19 failed to dent profitability at Trex, which recycles scrap film into composite lumber. In fact, the opposite happened: Sales and profits both jumped sharply last year.

Pandemic e-commerce drives mill’s recycled packaging

February 23, 2021

By Colin Staub

A Pacific Northwest paper mill has begun producing new grades of paper made from recovered fiber, a response to changing end markets and growing customer interest in recycled content.

Inland Empire mill

Smelters describe 2020 price and supply impacts

February 18, 2021

By Colin Staub

For major e-scrap smelting companies, the turbulence of 2020 brought pandemic-driven supply disruptions as well as pricing spikes for key metals.

Sims: Parts reuse helped offset 2020 cloud challenges

February 18, 2021

By Jared Paben

Sims Lifecycle Services enjoyed a year-over-year profit boost in the latter half of 2020, although COVID-19 slowed the company’s push to recycle materials associated with cloud computing.

Recycled resin buyers report boosted profits

February 10, 2021

By Jared Paben

Two large manufacturers of recycled-plastic products – Unifi and Greystone Logistics – stayed on track late last year despite COVID-19 complications, financial filings show.

Wastecon takeaways: COVID impacts and compostable concerns

February 2, 2021

By Editorial Staff

Last week, the Solid Waste Association of North America held its annual Wastecon event online. Not surprisingly, much of the talk during virtual sessions focused on the pandemic. But other topics got their due as well.

Compost, recycling and garbage carts set outside of the home on the curb for residential garbage and recycling pickup.

Firm finds device remarketing a good business during COVID-19

January 28, 2021

By Jared Paben

Strong demand for used electronics is helping to drive growth for a reuse-focused Texas processor.

Cascade survey shows pandemic’s ITAD impact

January 21, 2021

By Jared Paben

The coronavirus forced many organizations to sideline IT refresh projects in 2020, but enterprise representatives say they expect to get back into the asset disposition game in 2021.

O-I restarts glass furnace due to greater bottle demand

January 19, 2021

By Jared Paben

Glass bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois has fired up a formerly idled furnace at its Waco, Texas plant, citing increased demand for alcoholic-beverage bottles as a result of the pandemic.

Brown glass bottles at the manufacturing plant.

Tight trucking market will persist well into 2021

January 19, 2021

By Colin Staub

A driver shortage that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to create challenges for moving recyclables this year, analysts say.

Many hauling trucks parked in a lot.

‘Anomaly’ year brings recycled PET market twists

December 23, 2020

By Colin Staub

A confluence of RPET market disruptions in 2020 included low prime plastic pricing and supply challenges that led end users to seek feedstock from other sources. Still, experts maintain a surge of RPET demand is fast approaching.

Mapping out the recycling firms that received PPP loans

December 15, 2020

By Jared Paben

Over $850 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds flowed to MRF operators and recyclables trading companies this year, according to data released following a court order.

View of a map of recycling firms receiving PPP loans.

How COVID-19 affected one Midwest state’s EPR program

December 10, 2020

By Jared Paben

Pandemic-related collection closures conspired with a continually changing electronics stream to curtail e-scrap collections in Wisconsin during the last program year.

Remote work drives another mail-based disposition program

December 3, 2020

By Colin Staub

TES recently launched a device return program in collaboration with UPS, a response to office employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Survey probes COVID-19 e-scrap impact on enterprises

November 19, 2020

By Jared Paben

Nearly half of large organizations have created job positions related to managing scrap electronics generated during the pandemic, according to a survey.

COVID-19 demand shift opens door for recycled fiber

November 17, 2020

By Colin Staub

Nine Dragons is shifting toward recycled packaging at a U.S. mill, citing an “unprecedented” decline in demand for printing and writing paper. The company is just one of several paper producers responding to changing markets with mill conversions.

Stacks of baled paper for recycling.

Firms to face vaccine policy considerations

November 12, 2020

By Jared Paben

As the country gets closer to coronavirus vaccine approvals and distribution, recycling business managers may soon face a thorny question: whether to force employees to take the vaccine.

Metals experts talk pandemic impact and forecast demand

November 5, 2020

By Colin Staub

Processors were not alone in feeling supply and demand impacts from COVID-19. Their downstream partners were in a similar boat, as three smelting and refining experts explained during a presentation last week.

Pandemic shifts are a mixed bag for MRF operators

November 3, 2020

By Jared Paben

Processors say they’re seeing higher tonnages of aluminum and other valuable materials, as well as an HDPE price spike. But contamination and other complications persist.

Mixed residential recyclables in a pile.

How COVID-19 is reshaping the ITAD business

October 29, 2020

By Jared Paben

Leaders at companies serving the enterprise sector say they are hearing requests for logistics help and refurbished products of all kinds. That’s keeping business steady even as some IT refresh projects are postponed.

COVID-19 and China drive global market changes

October 21, 2020

By Colin Staub

In the U.S., the plastics recycling market has been largely dictated by pandemic-related collection and demand realities. Overseas, a recent Chinese move to restrict recycled plastic pellet imports is posing trade challenges.

WM highlights recycling activities during tumultuous year

October 20, 2020

By Colin Staub

The largest hauler in North America processed a record amount of recyclables in 2019, and it invested more than $100 million to improve its recycling infrastructure, according to its latest sustainability report.

Waste Management fleet of trucks from above.

KW invests in processing equipment amid pandemic

September 22, 2020

By Colin Staub

Supply and demand realities for key curbside plastics are evolving fast during the coronavirus pandemic, and they’ve led one major plastics recycling company to adjust operationally.

Scrap paper and plastic markets hit by confluence of forces

September 22, 2020

By Colin Staub

Supply and demand realities for key curbside materials are evolving fast, impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, domestic processing capacity increases and other key trends, according to two experts.

Industry stakeholders say material is flowing again

September 17, 2020

By Colin Staub

Processors and state programs alike saw a lot less material this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. But in the last couple months, inbound volumes have returned and surged in some cases. That fact has created new challenges.

End users report pandemic-period financials

September 2, 2020

By Jared Paben

COVID-19 and the related economic slowdowns have bruised the bottom line of a major RPET consumer, but other recycled-plastic-product makers have reported economic gains.

Recycled fiber end users put new focus on residential stream

September 1, 2020

By Colin Staub

OCC generation has shifted away from the commercial realm amid COVID-19, and tonnages might never go back. A paper association leader described that trend and what it means for the industry’s future.

Recycling bin full of cardboard boxes.

How COVID-19 has affected ITAD and data destruction firms

August 27, 2020

By Jared Paben

The pandemic has forced the ITAD industry to adapt to survive. Experts from three processors recently described that sudden evolution and what it means for the future of data destruction services.

How programs in NY, Texas and Colorado are handling COVID-19

August 25, 2020

By Colin Staub

Leaders from three municipal recycling programs of varying size, including the largest city in the U.S., say they are grappling with budget issues and making alterations to collection service as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

A row of blue recycling bins in front of a brick wall.

How PPP loans assisted the e-scrap industry

August 20, 2020

By Jared Paben

Funding from the Paycheck Protection Program helped numerous electronics recycling and repair companies through difficult times, including Virginia company C2 Management.

What to expect in domestic recycled paper markets

August 4, 2020

By Colin Staub

Recycled paper mill leaders recently weighed in on the factors behind market shifts, how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting generation and demand, and where markets are headed in the future.

Paper bales for recycling.

How PPP loans helped MRFs across the country

August 4, 2020

By Jared Paben

MRF operators received tens of millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program funds, recently released data suggests. A few explained just how important the money was to preventing layoffs.

Person in a suit signing a check.

Pandemic upends certification audit sector

July 30, 2020

By Dan Leif

The coronavirus has forced e-scrap companies to navigate material supply shifts, tackle new safety concerns and confront wider economic uncertainty. Another complication to add to the list: certification audits.

Republic talks MRF investments and COVID-19 impacts

July 27, 2020

By Colin Staub

Republic Services spent $34 million on equipment upgrades at its recycling facilities last year, and it closed 12 MRFs in a consolidation effort.

Republic Services Plano, Texas MRF.

Pandemic trends lead to boosted PC sales in Q2

July 16, 2020

By Colin Staub

PC shipments were up almost 3% during the second quarter of the year compared with 2019. Analysis firm Gartner says the growth was driven by stores beginning to rebound from the first-quarter COVID-19 disruptions, as well as a significant increase in laptop sales.

How pandemic has affected WM and Waste Connections

July 14, 2020

By Colin Staub

Two large publicly held waste and recycling companies are taking in higher residential volumes during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they say contamination has been flat. Recently, they’ve also started seeing critical upticks on the commercial side.

Waste Connections recycling collection truck unloads material at the Balcones MRF in Austin, Texas.

Processors outline steps to survival amid COVID-19

July 2, 2020

By Colin Staub

During a recent virtual meeting of e-scrap stakeholders, speakers offered a micro and macro look at how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the world of electronics recovery.

For more processors, ‘mailing it in’ means opportunity

July 9, 2020

By Colin Staub

The coronavirus pandemic has strained e-scrap collection, but that’s opening the door to an alternative recovery system that minimizes contact between people.

COVID-19 cases disrupt more recycling programs

June 30, 2020

By Colin Staub

Coronavirus infections among workers have caused a MRF to shutter and delayed collection of recyclables elsewhere. The federal government and one state are working to provide masks and funding to help programs cope.

Medical masks arranged on a blue background.

California reinstates bag ban and PCR requirements

June 24, 2020

By Colin Staub

A single-use plastic bag ban and reusable bag recycled-content mandate is back in force in California. The regulations had been temporarily lifted because of COVID-19.

Auto shutdown slashed reclaimer’s demand by 35%

June 24, 2020

By Colin Staub

An executive at KW Plastics recently described current market trends and how they’ve impacted scrap plastic prices.

In Our Opinion: Stay the course toward reusable packaging

June 24, 2020

By Clarissa Morawski and Samantha Millette

Health authorities say reusable packaging poses no more risk of spreading coronavirus than single-use packaging, but the plastics industry is still trying to use COVID-19 to derail progress on reducing single-use plastics.

Recycling policy is back after COVID-19 hiatus

June 23, 2020

By Colin Staub

Across the U.S., recycling conversations among elected officials are gaining momentum, suggesting 2020 could still be marked by laws related to materials recovery.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Recycled fiber operations shut down

June 9, 2020

By Colin Staub

Three paper companies recently closed facilities that use recycled material. Two framed the shutdowns as part of longer-term “optimization” plans, and the third said it is a direct response to the COVID-19 impact on demand.

Paper mill scene.

Bottle deposit programs continue to reopen

June 9, 2020

By Colin Staub

Container deposit programs are starting back up following their COVID-19 downtime. Equipment supplier Tomra offered a look at how the process is playing out in Connecticut.

Empty bottles to be recycled.

Sector’s current focus: policy, demand and COVID-19

June 3, 2020

By Colin Staub

Although they couldn’t meet in person, plastics recycling stakeholders still came together for the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) members meeting, which was held online for the first time.

Plastics processors grapple with drops in pricing and demand

May 28, 2020

By Jared Paben and Dan Leif

Rock-bottom virgin prices and manufacturing shutdowns tied to the coronavirus have put a significant squeeze on plastics recycling profits of late. Some operators, however, expect conditions to start improving soon.

Budget shortfalls threaten local recycling programs

May 27, 2020

By Colin Staub

It’s too early to say how big of a hole COVID-19 will punch in municipal budgets. But communities are already facing tough decisions about how to allocate limited resources, and in some cases, recycling isn’t making the cut.

Coronavirus infections impact recycling operations

May 27, 2020

By Jared Paben

A MRF serving Calgary is back at half-capacity after workers tested positive for the coronavirus, and a local program in Missouri is being put on hold as employees go into quarantine.

Working-from-home drives data center device demand

May 21, 2020

By Colin Staub

A company involved in data center and wireless provider decommissioning foresees a “new normal” of higher internet traffic after the pandemic ends. That means more equipment in these facilities and more opportunity in retiring those assets.

EU group: Markets are crippling reclaimers

May 20, 2020

By Jared Paben

Coronavirus shutdown impacts have converged with low virgin plastic prices to spell significant struggles for European plastics reclaimers, according to a trade association.

OCC supply shortfalls drive up prices

May 19, 2020

By Colin Staub

The coronavirus pandemic has sharply diminished OCC collection from established commercial channels and some residential programs. An analyst describes how the virus hit the paper sector, and mill operators offer perspective on how they’re reacting.

Cardboard in a recycling bin.

Company shifts to produce recycled-content face masks

May 19, 2020

By Colin Staub

A small manufacturer recently began using post-industrial materials to produce masks for the COVID-19 response.

Unifi, Trex and Greystone describe business conditions

May 13, 2020

By Colin Staub

Three major recycled plastic consumers recently reported their business performance during the first few months of 2020. They touched on COVID-19, recycled material costs and their outlook for the future.

Feds publish virus safety guidance for waste industry

May 12, 2020

By Jared Paben

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a fact sheet to help keep garbage and recycling industry workers safe during the pandemic.

ITAM group: Plan now to properly dispose of excess devices

May 7, 2020

By Jared Paben

IT asset managers should be ready for managing electronics that will no longer be needed when the coronavirus pandemic subsides and employees return to offices, according to an industry group.

Refurbishers pitch in with coronavirus efforts

May 7, 2020

By Colin Staub

Processors across the country are donating refurbished electronics to aid in the COVID-19 response. Companies are providing devices to hospitals, first responders, students and others.

OEM group offers emergency funds to UK e-scrap firms

May 7, 2020

By Jared Paben

A producer-backed group in the U.K. is providing interest-free loans and grants to help keep electronics recycling companies in business through the coronavirus pandemic.

From NIR to PPE: Sortation firm helps masks fit better

May 6, 2020

By Jared Paben

Normally, NRT’s 3D printer is busy producing parts for optical sorters and other recycling machinery. But amid the pandemic, the company is also using the technology to make mask straps that help out health care workers.

Low virgin plastics pricing pinches recycling market further

May 5, 2020

By Colin Staub

The coronavirus pandemic has piled on top of existing plastics recycling market strife to cause pricing fluctuations and create uncertainty about how end users will meet their sustainability commitments.

How three cities address recycling in budget-repair plans

May 5, 2020

By Jared Paben

Pandemic-prompted lockdowns have crippled tax revenues nationwide, sending municipal leaders scrambling to patch gaping budget holes. In many cases, recycling programs have been affected.

Repair developments during the pandemic

April 30, 2020

By Colin Staub

Phone manufacturers offer free repairs to frontline workers, and ventilator producers release resources helping third-party companies fix ventilators.

CTA forecasts falling device sales this year

April 30, 2020

By Jared Paben

An economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus will translate to lower sales of new electronics this year, according to an industry group.

COVID-19 shifts supply and demand for KW Plastics

April 29, 2020

By Colin Staub and Jared Paben

The coronavirus has disrupted end markets for KW Plastics, moving demand away from industrial applications and toward packaging for essential products.

Plastics processor pivots to manufacture PPE

April 29, 2020

By Jared Paben

Post-industrial scrap plastic recycling company Mumford Industries is producing emergency ponchos to help protect health care workers from the coronavirus.

Pause on bag law is a hit to some recyclers

April 29, 2020

By Colin Staub

California’s single-use bag ban has been suspended for two months, with the governor citing coronavirus safety concerns. One plastics reclaimer said the move led to an immediate drop in PCR sales.

City data shows COVID-19 impacts on recycling tonnages

April 28, 2020

By Colin Staub

Recycling programs are reporting greater residential recycling generation in March, concurrent with stay-at-home orders issued nationwide. Stakeholders involved with local programs are also noting the shift away from commercial generation may carry major financial implications.

Some cities restart recycling as cuts continue elsewhere

April 28, 2020

By Colin Staub

A handful of municipalities have reinstated curbside recycling programs that were suspended due to the coronavirus. Still, dozens of others that curtailed service remain shut down.

The Big Apple cuts curbside e-scrap service from budget

April 23, 2020

By Jared Paben

New York City has “indefinitely suspended” its curbside e-scrap collection program, a move expected to save the city about $3.4 million a year.

Electronics processor retools to serve COVID-19 need

April 23, 2020

By Colin Staub

An Irish electronics recycling firm has converted its refurbishing line to focus on assembling ventilators. Meanwhile, the medical devices are drawing focus among right-to-repair advocates.

Some recycling firms score paycheck loans; others strike out

April 22, 2020

By Editorial Staff

Reclaimers and other processors across the country are looking to a federal assistance program to help them overcome cash-flow problems sparked by the coronavirus. Some have been successful, but others are running into banking complexities and tapped-out funding.

Pandemic alters – and threatens – supply chain for end users

April 21, 2020

By Colin Staub

As the coronavirus impacts continue throughout the U.S., manufacturers are highlighting the importance of curbside recycling as a feedstock supply channel. Meanwhile, processors are seeing changes in demand for their material as consumer spending shifts.

Guide helps programs prepare for the unknown

April 21, 2020

By Jared Paben

The coronavirus pandemic has made clear the importance of having a contingency plan when the unexpected strikes recycling programs. A new tool from Ontario’s Continuous Improvement Fund helps municipalities develop such guidance.

Standing too close? MRF asks workers to write that down

April 21, 2020

By Dan Leif

Many recycling facilities track throughput, materials composition, contamination and other data points. One operator in the Northeast is now bringing meticulous measurement to social distancing.

ITAD processors try to hold on amid COVID-19

April 16, 2020

By Jared Paben

At enterprises across North America, IT asset refresh projects are no longer a top priority. That has meant major volume drops for material processors, as well as painful staffing cuts in some cases.

Analysts: Pandemic prompts IT spending cuts

April 16, 2020

By Jared Paben

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted worldwide supply and demand for new PCs, bringing both bad and good news for computer recyclers and refurbishers, according to Gartner.

University researches recycling realities for protective equipment

April 15, 2020

By Jared Paben

The coronavirus has put a focus on the plastics used in the manufacture of gloves, masks and other types of personal protective equipment. KW Plastics will assist Troy University scientists who are studying the recycling of that material.

COVID-19 damages supply chain for deposit materials

April 14, 2020

By Colin Staub

Stay-at-home orders are hitting container deposit systems hard, leading to significant declines in the volumes of high-quality recyclables moving to material processors.

Closed reverse vending machine for container redemption.

In Our Opinion: Undoing plastic bans is risky business

April 14, 2020

By Sydney Harris and Scott Cassel, Product Stewardship Institute

Product stewardship proponents argue that rolling back policies on plastic bags and other single-use items in the name of public health will perpetuate harm to the environment and human health.

Processors react as household collections collapse

April 9, 2020

By Jared Paben

The coronavirus pandemic has led to major reductions in the collection of used consumer electronics across North America, with some e-scrap companies reporting volume drops up to 80%.

More cleaning, less collection: Firms try to protect workers

April 9, 2020

By Jared Paben and Colin Staub

E-scrap and ITAD processors nationwide are disinfecting surfaces, changing work stations, modifying the ways they take in material, and more. The goal is to limit employees’ potential contact with the coronavirus.

Amid pandemic, MRFs face new worker safety challenges

April 7, 2020

By Colin Staub

As the coronavirus continues to spread, recycling facilities are increasing distance between employees, sanitizing common areas and, in at least one case, halting the practice of punching in and out on a time clock.

Health officials say PPE and proper cleaning are critical

April 7, 2020

By Dan Leif and Colin Staub

Occupational safety experts recently laid out the steps that are the most effective for preventing the spread of COVID-19 within waste and recycling operations.

Roundup of reactions to the pandemic

April 7, 2020

By Jared Paben

Waste Management suspends sorting of residential materials at a handful of California MRFs, local governments around the country lay off workers, and the Canadian government readies help for beleaguered businesses.

Rendering of a coronavirus under microscope.

Republic: COVID-19 brings ‘uncontrollable challenges’

March 31, 2020

By Colin Staub

Republic Services foresees major changes in the residential and commercial recycling landscape due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Republic Services recycling container.

How small businesses can access federal relief dollars

March 31, 2020

By Jared Paben

The bipartisan stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump last week includes hundreds of billions of dollars in assistance to small businesses.

The U.S. capitol building.

Recycling processors offer masks for virus effort

March 31, 2020

By Jared Paben

Even as recycling companies adapt to keep their employees and businesses healthy, some are donating supplies to ensure healthcare workers are protected, as well.

Several N95 masks for pandemic safety.

Device resellers see ‘unprecedented demand’

March 26, 2020

By Jared Paben

E-scrap processors across the U.S. say the coronavirus and resulting work-from-home orders have energized the market for refurbished electronics. In some cases, they can’t keep up with the needs of customers.

Recycling largely steers clear of mandates shuttering businesses

March 24, 2020

By Colin Staub

Recycling collection and processing has been deemed essential by states that have issued stay-at-home orders, meaning industry entities are not subject to forced shutdowns.

Virus leads to program changes across North America

March 24, 2020

By Colin Staub

Recycling programs nationwide have curtailed service due to the coronavirus pandemic, potentially hampering the supply of recyclables moving to market in the weeks to come.

DSNY says 32 workers have tested positive for COVID-19

March 24, 2020

By Colin Staub

New York City, which has the largest concentration of coronavirus cases in the U.S., is continuing curbside service even as the city’s collection department battles infections among employees.

Pandemic causes host of complications for industry

March 24, 2020

By Jared Paben and Colin Staub

The coronavirus has prompted the closure of a state recycling association, and it spurred the Federal Reserve to encourage investors to continue lending to local governments.

E-scrap sector reacts to coronavirus pandemic

March 19, 2020

By Colin Staub

The global escalation of COVID-19 is causing supplier and customer disruption for e-scrap processors, while on a wider scale it constrains global shipping, dents stock prices and threatens an economic recession.

Editor’s Analysis: Suddenly, uncertainty is everywhere

March 17, 2020

By Dan Leif

The rapid spread of COVID-19 and Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood global oil markets underscore how economic uncertainty can challenge even well-prepared business leaders.

Graph depicting down market trends.

Coronavirus pandemic disrupts recycling sector

March 17, 2020

By Colin Staub

The global escalation of COVID-19 is hampering some North American recycling programs, impacting Chinese users of U.S. recovered fiber, constraining global shipping, denting stock prices and threatening an economic recession.

Coronavirus image.

Recycling industry coronavirus resources

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, numerous industry organizations have published resources about responding to the disruption. Our list will be updated as more guidance is made available.

computer user

Subscribe today for weekly updates

    In addition to our e-newsletters, Resource Recycling Inc. will occasionally send emails related to the specific recycling industry sectors you've selected.
  • You are encouraged to review our privacy policy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.