Takeout has indubitably increased in the age of Covid-19 as we strive to support local restaurants, keep our social distance, and still feed ourselves. Has picking up our food on-the-go increased how much trash we put out? We reached out to local waste management officials and asked: Has Covid-19 and its associated increase of takeout containers affected the waste stream? What is the data showing, both for recyclables and trash?

SORTED AFFAIR: Workers separate items at the recycling center. Photo courtesy Waste Management

Actually, Volume is Down

This answer may surprise you — the use of takeout containers has not made a significant impact on waste disposal in our area. In fact, the overall amount of waste generated in Northern Nevada is down. The Lake Tahoe and Northern Nevada economies have, in the past, been driven by tourism and events. Events and participants typically generate large waste volumes as businesses prepare food and sell products to visitors, who also leave behind waste items they brought from elsewhere. It’s true there has been a slight uptick in residential trash and recycling in our community as schools have closed and more people worked from home. However, the loss of events and commercial business over the past year resulted in lower overall waste volumes (trash and recycling) in 2020.

That said, Incline Village surprisingly bucks the trend that we saw in the rest of Northern Nevada, where the loss of events and reduced business resulted in lower overall waste volumes. As you can see, there was a bit more trash in Incline this past year (see chart next page). It’s a wild guess on my part, but that could be an indication of more full-time residents in the area versus the typical vacation rentals. It could also reflect an increase in home improvement/cleaning that was popular in 2020.

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~ Kendra Kostelecky, Waste Management, which services Incline Village

It’s More than Takeout

Be assured the current waste stream is still being carefully processed for applicable recyclables. Through the one big bin sorting process, we exceed diversion requirements and despite Covid-19 impacts have continued to do so. Along with more takeout containers, we are also seeing an increase in cardboard due to more residents ordering goods directly to their homes. From my standpoint, the increase in to-go containers is not enough to “tip the scales” and generate any noticeable data impact, despite the majority of to-go containers not being recyclable.

The impacts of Covid were sort of on specific or micro levels, not necessarily reflected on the whole, because we had impacts going opposite directions. For example, this summer we had restaurants that were subscribing to the lowest levels of service (or none) while at the same time, the California State Parks were ordering more dumpsters than they’ve ever needed. There isn’t a profound effect upon the total (see chart at right), and a variety of factors are at play.

The most noticeable impact of Covid-19 is the relationship between an increase in residential waste and a decrease in commercial waste, and over the summer, extreme usage of campground and/or public-facing trash receptacles and dumpsters.

Total Trash and Recycling, Year over Year

“To give a little perspective on the numbers,” Kendra Kostelecky said, “a typical trash collection truck carries about 12 to 14 tons of garbage at a time.”

 

Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal

Waste Management, Incline Village

YearTotal Trash to Eastern Regional Landfill (tons)Mixed Waste Recycled (tons)Total Trash TonsTotal Single Stream Recycling TonsTotal Green Waste/Pine Needle Collection
201862,671.6323,394.1713,2781,219.8566
201964,491.5125,484.9612,2841,257.4654
202065,678.9124,340.6313,1171,131.7720

 

~ Kelli Hare, operations at Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal — its service area spans from Tahoe’s West Shore, from Emerald Bay up and over to Crystal Bay, northwest to Truckee, and west almost all the way to Colfax.

~ Compiled by Mayumi Elegado

Author

  • Mayumi Elegado was made in the Philippines, born in Minnesota, and has lived on both U.S. coasts, plus a few more shorelines overseas. From an early age, she was passionate about the written word and the power of storytelling. This interest fortuitously led to her current position as publisher/owner of Moonshine Ink. She has lived in Truckee since 1999, and dreams of being a surfing mountain cowgirl. Connect with Mayumi Visit: M-Tu, Th-Fr 9:30am - 6pm 10317 Riverside Dr Truckee, CA 96161 Email: melegado (at) moonshineink.com

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