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

Some recycling operators are citing concerns over the novel coronavirus spreading among employees or through interactions with customers or contaminated recyclables. Workforce shortages are adding additional pressure.

In response, some programs are limiting the materials they collect, altering service hours or shutting down altogether, although the changes have been largely limited to smaller communities.

“It means the material isn’t going to be sorted and get to the recyclers,” said Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). “That’s a problem.” (APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc., publisher of Plastics Recycling Update.)

Constraining resin supply?

Collection disruptions could present difficulties for reclaimers looking to source feedstock.

In Europe, where strict regulations disrupting daily life and limiting business activity have been a couple weeks ahead of such changes in the U.S., experts are pointing to signs of recycled plastic supply disruptions on the horizon.

European recycling firms are concerned about lower redemption rates in deposit return programs, as well as wider collection rate decreases, according to analysis from Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS).

“Reduced collection rates typically take several weeks to be felt in the market because of the time it takes post-consumer or post-industrial material to work through the chain,” the ICIS write-up noted.

In the U.S., program shifts are just now being announced.

The majority of U.S. recycling programs, including larger ones such as New York City’s, have not been interrupted by the virus. But numerous service changes have been reported by smaller programs across the map.

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