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Recycling and Sustainable Management of Food During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Public Health Emergency

As many Americans spend more time at home, we are changing the way we purchase and use goods and food. At the same time, there are some supply chain disruptions in the food and manufacturing sectors. There is the potential for households to generate more waste than they did before, but there is also an opportunity to focus on waste prevention, increase your reuse and recycling efforts, and use food more efficiently.

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Recycling During COVID-19

Areas Under Stay at Home Orders

Remember to follow any local and/or state guidelines before leaving your home to recycle or donate items.

Recycled materials serve as feedstocks necessary to produce essential supplies including those especially needed during this time such as paper towels, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper, and packaging for a wide range of products including boxes for shipping. Many businesses that would normally generate large amounts of recyclables have limited operations now. Therefore, household recycling is vital to the continued supply of raw materials for U.S. manufacturing sectors.

What Individuals Can Do

Now is a great time to focus on waste prevention where possible, and when recycling, keep the materials as clean and dry as possible. Follow the guidelines of your local recycling hauler and only put items in your recycling bin that they accept. If your community is not processing recycling due to the materials recovery facility being closed or another reason, consider dropping materials off at a recycling center, while following Center for Disease Control, state and local public health guidelines. Thank your recycling collectors, haulers and sorters—they are providing a vital service during this time!

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Tips and Reminders During and After COVID-19

  • Keep plastic bags, masks, wipes, and latex gloves out of the recycling bin.
  • If someone in your home has COVID-19, treat your recyclables as trash. 
  • Don’t put your recyclables in plastic bags.
  • Clean and shake dry recyclables to ensure products get recycled.
  • Break down cardboard boxes and put them in the recycling bin whenever possible. 
  • Put recycling and trash in the appropriate bins, not next to them. Leaving materials next to bins increases risks to sanitation workers and can attract pests.
  • Do not put lithium, lithium-ion or spent lead-acid batteries (e.g., car batteries) in your trash or recycling bins. These batteries can contain hazardous materials and can contaminate groundwater or cause fires at recycling facilities. Batteries from electronics and cars can be recycled at specified retail and other locations. You can also check with your city or county to see if they have a household hazardous waste collection program.
  • If you are spring cleaning, consider setting aside things (batteries, paints, weed killer, plastic bags, clothing, other donations, etc.) to donate, recycle, or dispose of later when it's safe to bring them to a drop off location or collection event. Follow local guidelines. Many localities are limiting service (e.g., not picking up yard waste or bulk items at this time).
  • Return grass clippings back onto your lawn instead of bagging them.

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Video Message from Administrator Wheeler: The Importance of Recycling and Proper Management of Personal Protective Equipment During COVID-19

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Resources

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Sustainable Management of Food During COVID-19

Areas Under Stay at Home Orders

Remember to follow any local and/or state guidelines before leaving your home to donate items.

The food supply chain has experienced disruptions as a result of COVID-19. The shift from eating in restaurants, cafeterias, and schools has caused a much greater demand for food in grocery stores. Many households are facing challenges in managing food at home and are looking for ways to reduce waste. Now more than ever, it is essential that we prevent food from being wasted and help get excess food distributed to those who need it.

What Individuals Can Do

  • Learn how to properly plan meals, cook with ingredients you have on hand, and store and freeze food to make it last longer. This will not only save you money and ensure that you make the most of your groceries, but also enable you to take fewer trips to the store.
    • See EPA’s Reducing Wasted Food at Home Tips and Food: Too Good to Waste Toolkit
    • Learn how to properly store food with the FoodKeeper app, Save The Food’s Interactive Storage Guide and tips for optimal freezing and the Refrigerator Demystified graphic.
    • Watch Stop Food Waste's videos on reviving foods and doing a ten-minute “Fridge Reality Check”.
    • Learn how to shop wisely with the Quarantine Food Calculator and to plan meals with Save The Food’s Meal Prep Mate.
    • Make the most of the food in your fridge and pantry with recipes you find online, such as those on Further with Food.
  • Find your local food bank and learn how you can support them, but make sure to follow your local guidelines on whether you should stay home.
  • Learn how to compost yard waste and food scraps in your backyard.
  • Thank grocery store and restaurant staff; farmers; and grocery and food delivery workers—they are providing a vital service during this time!

Links to the resources noted above can be found in the Additional Resources section below.

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What Businesses and Institutions Can Do

  • Donate excess food to those in need through food banks or food rescue organizations such as Feeding America, Food Rescue US, Food Recovery Network and other organizations in your area. Understand benefits and protections available to donors.
  • Use EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map to locate food banks, composting facilities, and anaerobic digestion facilities near you to find alternatives to sending excess food to landfills.
  • If you have excess food that cannot be donated to feed people, consider sending it to feed animals. See the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Fact Sheet on safely distributing unused human food for use as animal food (PDF) (3 pp, 143 K, About PDF).
  • Consider forming new partnerships with businesses and organizations in order to transform excess food into prepared meals that can be donated to food insecure populations or front-line workers, or to find options to preserve excess food through canning, dehydration, and fermentation.

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Federal Resources

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Additional Resources

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