Pandemic Pause

From stepping up our hygiene game or cutting the clutter, COVID-19 was the impetus for a massive cleaning frenzy across Alberta.

With limited access to the day-to-day pleasures of restaurants, gyms and other non-essential businesses, and more time spent at home, people began to take a closer and more ruthless look at their surroundings. As a result, objects and materials that were previously hard to part with were relegated to the waste and recycling pile.


Like so many organizations navigating the pandemic, ARMA and our 440 recycling partners across Alberta were required to be nimble and creative as everyone’s urge to purge set in. Transfer stations, eco-stations and drop-off locations around the province experienced a significant influx of activity as people loaded up their vehicles with unwanted bulky items, household hazardous waste, recyclables, electronics, yard scraps and more.

“Our collection sites were deemed an essential service so we were able to remain open throughout the enhanced public health measures,” said ARMA CEO Ed Gugenheimer. “We were definitely busier than anticipated with many of our Edmonton sites noting an uptick in visitors.”

It would seem that the pandemic provided the push needed to expedite household renovation and remodelling projects. As paint sales soared, ARMA saw an increase in paint drop offs — a service that’s been available to Albertans since 2008. From a cost recovery perspective this was an unanticipated but welcome bonus. The small environmental fee attached to paint purchases supports safe product disposal, but the real win lies in ARMA’s ability to repurpose nearly 100% of all the undesired hues. From the can to the colour itself, ARMA and our partners are always exploring new applications to repurpose this potentially hazardous waste.  

Whether it was a fresh coat of paint or a full domestic deep clean, everyone’s hands were far from idle during the forced downtime, and proactive collection sites were quick to pick up on this trend. These busier than ever locations had to shift quickly. Pre-pandemic policies and processes were adjusted in order to handle the never before seen volume of materials and awareness campaigns were also launched to educate keen recyclers with limited previous experience.


As consumers organized their spaces, so too did the collection sites, revamping websites, updating on-site signage and wayfinding maps, and reconfiguring site setup at drop off locations. Not only were these efforts integral to keeping everyone safe, they were also optimally timed to help residents better understand the benefits of recycling along with what to expect when dropping off, which items are accepted, and how vehicles should be loaded and prepared to streamline a visit.


“I’m sure like a lot of municipalities and organizations in the business, there is a tendency to always think that we’re at the top of our game, but COVID-19 really forced us to reassess almost everything we did in our programs,” said Andy Garrod, Eco Station Supervisor for Edmonton’s Strathcona Eco Station.


Although the pandemic has been challenging on a number of fronts, it has given us all many teachable moments. We are indeed grateful that so many Albertans chose to lighten their load and in doing so, gifted ARMA and our partners with insight and new levers to affect positive change.