Originally posted on American Chemistry Council on 04/30/2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while many of us are working from home, many American workers who are part of “essential” industries continue to go to their place of work. Hospital and healthcare workers are the most obvious examples, but this list includes those who work in food production and grocery stores, delivery and postal services… and of course those making chemicals and plastics that go into hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, and other products that help keep us safe and lessen the risk of infection.

Let’s not forget that sanitation and recycling workers are essential too.

Before the pandemic, workers in the sanitation and recycling industries collected and sorted the post-use material from our homes, schools, and places of employment on a daily basis. Now, these workers continue to collect waste and recyclables from our homes while many of us stay safely inside. They sort materials at a recycling facility helping to prepare them to be repurposed or when not recyclable safely dispose of our discards.

Many of the recyclables these workers process are critical to making essential products (these days bathroom tissue comes to mind), and they support our nation’s critical supply chains by providing the materials needed to create the everyday products we all rely on, pandemic or not.

Now, on top of these tasks, these workers are trying to stay safe from a rapidly spreading virus that can live on the surfaces of the materials they’re collecting and managing. Unfortunately, some people are discarding their used masks, gloves, and wipes in recycling bins, instead of properly disposing in the trash, which poses an unnecessary contamination risk to recycling workers.

To add even further difficulties, many of these workers now face uncertainty as some communities scale back their waste and recycling programs, potentially threatening their jobs.

While those working in sanitation and recycling do most of the heavy lifting, we can all help out by making sure that we properly dispose of non-recyclable potentially contaminated personal items—especially masks, gloves, and wipes—in the trash to limit unnecessary exposures and put only the correct items in the recycling bins. (Not sure what goes in the bin? Check with your local municipality—some have recently made changes to their recycling programs due to the pandemic.)  Although these items are non-recyclable, we are working to reduce waste by making all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030.

To the sanitation and recycling workers who are out there every day, helping keep our communities cleaner and more sanitary: a very sincere thank you. We are grateful for all you do.