Reducing Waste During a Pandemic


A quick scan of the EPA website shows that, as a nation, we are generating three times as much municipal waste today as we did 60 years ago, an average of 4.9 pounds per person per day, compared to about 2.6 pounds in 1960.  We recycle/compost only about a third of what we generate today. (

Sitting at home more, eating out less, we are more conscious of our household’s incomings and outgoings.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by this situation. 

We are lucky in Manchester to have weekly curbside collection (many towns don’t), not just of trash but also of recyclables and compost.  None of our waste is landfilled. A generative waste combustion plant in North Andover cleanly and efficiently burns almost all our waste, extracts metals, and generates enough energy to power over 40,000 homes.  However, there are few plants like this, and ours is liable to reach capacity soon.  It is imperative that we find ways to reduce the amount of waste we generate.  There are many ways each one of us can reduce waste.

Composting food waste is an easy and cheap way to do this.  Food waste is heavy and does not belong in the trash or the landfill.  We are fortunate to have free curbside compost collection in Manchester.  If you already compost, it seems like a no-brainer. Yet only about 30% of our households take advantage of this service.  Call Black Earth Compost or the DPW if you don’t yet participate and would like to start composting.  Feel free to contact the Sustainability Committee for more information on composting.  Some municipalities, including our neighbor Hamilton, are instituting a ban on organics in trash, starting in February, because the trash burden has become too great. 

Recycling is mandatory in Massachusetts.  We’re pretty good at it, as a town.  But single-stream recycling, in which all (theoretically) recyclable materials--paper, plastic, glass and metals--are sent to a facility where they are mechanically re-separated and shipped to wherever they can be sold on the secondary market comes at considerable expense to the town.  We don’t really know what happens if the waste company can’t find a market for them.  Some products, particularly plastics, don’t have a high recycle value. It is often cheaper for manufacturers to make things out of new plastic, rather than using recycled plastic.  Recycling is expensive in terms of haulage, processing and carbon fuel usage.  Clean-burning waste plastic in a dedicated plant and generating energy from it is a sustainable solution to the plastic problem.  No doubt others will come along.  We need to investigate the true cost of recycling the way we are doing it now, as it may end up being more cost effective to send plastic waste to the incinerator. 

And what about all those Amazon boxes?  We are doing more online shopping than ever before. Put pressure on your vendors to use less packaging, particularly Styrofoam, which is impossible to dispose of properly.  Shop local where you can.  Use grocery stores that don’t wrap everything in plastic. Bring your own containers and bags.  Don’t buy drinks in plastic bottles and use reusable beverage containers whenever possible. 

Clothing production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions.  Cotton production uses a lot of water and pollutes water sources in the countries where clothes are made.  What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year.  And washing some types of clothes, like fleece jackets, sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean.  Buy used, and shop in your closet! Gently used clothing can be donated by placing it in one of the many containers around town. Other used clothing/fabrics can be placed in marked white plastic bags for pickup by Black Earth Compost.

Above all, buy less!  There are great websites like the “Buy Nothing” Facebook group whose mission is to “offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude” through the exchange of items that are no longer needed or wanted.  It is by forming connections with those in your neighborhood or community that give new life to those items that would otherwise likely be headed to the landfill.  Collection and drop-off of items, which may include sports equipment, appliances, shoes, furniture etc. is easily managed remotely.  Look for ways to repair and repurpose the equipment you have.  Make the manufacturer liable, rather than just throwing something away.  And just ask yourself, do I really need that?

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