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COVID-19 disrupts Lubbock's access to recycling center

There’s been a temporary reduction in global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, an unintended sliver lining to the mass stay at home orders. Dr. Kaharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor at Texas Tech University says that “we've seen is a massive decrease in air pollution in some of the most polluted cities in the world. In fact, a Stanford University study estimates that it's possible that the quarantine has saved more lives than were lost in some of the most polluted areas of the world because 9 million people die from air pollution every year. We just don't really talk about those numbers very much.”

She adds that it’s far from all good news when it comes to the environmental impact of forced confinement. “And in the meantime, during the quarantine, what has increased is our pollution of other things, of waste and of plastics. We're using so many takeout containers, a lot of recycling facilities including ours right here in Lubbock at the University have shut down, and so though our waste in some areas has gone down, in other areas it has skyrocketed up.”

Sean Duggan, Managing Director of University Student Housing at Texas Tech, says the decision to close the center wasn’t easy but was a necessity. “I don't remember what phase is that we did turn off. I think it was right before we all left campus. It was like, hey, I know this is a service for the community, but I don't want to risk folks. They're dealing with all these materials. I don't know where that come from. Who knows? So it just couldn't be a priority to continue that on campus when we were shut down.”

The closure of the University recycling center left locals with few options to dispose the extra waste that is building up. In fact Mayor Dan Pope said in a recent press conference that trash collection has doubled during the pandemic. The city does offer some recycling services. They accept No. 1 and 2 plastics, aluminum, newspapers, and a few other materials. They don’t however take glass, and unlike the facilities at     Tech you need to sort everything before dropping it off.

To offset the extra waste, Dr. Hayhoe suggest we consider more reusable options when possible. “Some of us might have the time to start looking at those things now, whereas in our normal busy lives we don't. So it's a great opportunity to take stock of what we use, how we use it, where we get it, and are there some small changes that we could make in our habits and our lives today that can make a longer difference long-term?”

As for when we could expect the center to reopen, Duggan suggested it might take some time. “I could see possibly it might be a year before we can consider recycling again, just because we've just got to focus on keeping the buildings, sanitized clean, students are as safe as possible, those kinds of things.”

For more of Texas Tech Public Media’s COVID-19 coverage visit:

Jonathan Seaborn is the Production Director for Texas Tech Public Television where he oversees the day to day production of programs like Inside Texas Tech and 24 Frames. He joined KTTZ in October of 2014 as a producer.
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