China’s lockdown may have reduced air pollution as factories and power plants halted, but the pandemic has had the opposite effect on the nation’s nascent recycling effort.

Millions of people in Chinese cities have been stuck at home for weeks, relying on food deliveries and online shopping, resulting in a surge in demand for single-use plastic containers and packaging.

Unlike the drop in emissions, which is proving temporary as factories restart, the rise in food deliveries may be more long-lived because people get used to the convenience, said Professor Huang Qunxing, who studies solid waste disposal and clean energy at Zhejiang University.

“The epidemic could encourage more people to become dependent on the online meal booking platforms,” Huang said. “It could also push more restaurants to expand their online business to resist similar risks in future, which would mean more disposable plastic containers that are hard to recycle.”

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