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Now that #WFH has become the norm, how have our sudden and major changes in behavior affected the environment?

Well, logic has it that working from home can help heal the planet. As consumers adjust to the ongoing conversation of goods, recycling comes more naturally; staying indoors has decreased environmental threats such as smog, with air pollution recorded at shockingly low levels in China, thanks to the closing of factories, travel restrictions and an economic slowdown, according to the NASA Earth Observatory, and businesses are taking a second look at their resources to use them more effectively, retool and improve their bottom line.

Here, George Valiotis, chief executive officer of Pace Glass Recycling, a New Jersey-based technologically driven glass recycling company, talks to WWD about notable changes in recycling stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

WWD: How are businesses and individuals adapting to changes stemming from the coronavirus pandemic?

George Valiotis: Most businesses and commercial buildings don’t have great recycling systems set up — more people working from home may lead to more recycling.

Most businesses and commercial buildings may not currently have great recycling systems set-up, but I believe that our reaction to COVID-19 will change that. As we practice social distancing, everyone, including standard employees and company officers, will be working from home.

Simultaneously, people will be adopting recycling habits in response to their will and need to save and self-preserve. Recycling will decrease their living costs, decrease the amount of land-fill garbage they put on the curbside (particularly as public sanitation, among other services, slow down), and become a naturally recurring habit.

When businesses reopen as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, these same employees and company officers will carry these habits with them, and ideally implement them in their corporate policies.

WWD: What trends or patterns have emerged from these changes?

G.V.: With social distancing, people are consuming more materials in one place that will have to be picked up.

Consumption in one place is increasing, but so is the use of recycled material. As a consequence, I expect curbside recycling is anticipated to increase by 30 to 40 percent.

Most of the items being used in people’s homes have a lot of packing that will need to be recycled. The recycling industry is adjusting itself to the changes of where waste is being accumulated. Trucks are having to change their routes from corporate addresses to residential ones, as their staffs are running business from their homes.

woman in mask with phone coronavirus Seattle

As the coronavirus softens in China, it continues to spread quickly throughout the U.S.  Ted S Warren/AP/Shutterstock

WWD: How is working from home positively impacting the environment?

G.V.: Social distancing and working from home have led to less smog. Lots of studies are bound to come about the coronavirus’ impact on pollution.

Pollution will certainly decrease within the U.S., and globally during the COVID-19 outbreak. China, among other countries, is already experiencing such changes. This is one of the balancing effects and even a positive consequence that has sprouted from such an unfortunate global dilemma.

Social distancing means we spend more time within our homes than traveling, whether to work or for some “outdoor” time. The use of motor vehicles has decreased incredibly; the consumption of commodities is being used wisely rather than wasted; and people prefer using recycled (i.e. reusable) products to decrease their land-fill garbage and save costs.

WWD: In what ways will the coronavirus pandemic impact the recycling industry long term?

G.V.: Although the recycling industry was not on stable footing to begin with, it is considered an essential service.

Recycling is a form of survival all around. By recycling, you’re not only cutting the costs within your own home, you support the use of recycled goods by industries, and ultimately cut their costs, enabling them to increase revenue that will pour back into the economy. You’re supporting a decrease in landfills and incinerator emissions that are deteriorating our quality of life. You are supporting a decrease in the unnecessary mining and use of the earth’s resources.

The pandemic is an awakening for people worldwide, reminding us that we are capable and innovative enough to survive any circumstance — recycling is essential for our short-term and long-term survival. The recycling industry is essential because it supports exactly this.

WWD: What other tactical “adjustments” have surfaced from the coronavirus pandemic?

G.V.: Businesses are adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic in interesting ways. Firstly, let’s note [again] that the recycling industry has begun changing its route to adjust to the fact that more recycled waste is being produced at home than in corporate settings, as people work from home.

I read about alcohol distilleries that are using their alcohol to produce hand sanitizer. This way, they are able to continue pay office, logistics and material — including glass bottles.

People are going virtual, [with] professional services being offered via Internet — hence keeping their business alive.

For more Business news from WWD, see:

U.N. ‘Texpertise’ Event Looks at Fashion’s Sustainable Development Goals

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