According to an international study published in June 2020 in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from Portugal and Canada who focused on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) determined the world was throwing out three million masks alone every minute. The researchers also raised concerns about PPE ending up in landfills, possibly causing environmental contamination.

So when a student submitted an idea to Allison Maxted’s office at Mohawk College in Hamilton suggesting the college offer recycling of disposable masks, she took it on with enthusiasm, launching the program last summer. Since then, the college has diverted more than 260,000 masks from landfills. It’s among several local projects trying to defray the increased waste during the pandemic.

Maxted, manager of sustainability at Mohawk College, says the school buys zero-waste boxes from Terracyle, a company that specializes in recycling materials that aren’t accepted in blue-box pickup. The boxes are placed at campus exits, then shipped to the company when they get full. Maxted said the polyethylene that makes up the bulk of a mask is recycled into rigid plastic and used for decking and outdoor furniture, the ear straps are used for playground resurfacing, and the nose wires are metal so are removed and recycled in the usual way.

The college has spent $30,000 so far on the program, including numerous boxes that have not yet been used. Each individual box costs between $223 and $243 before tax. “There are currently no plans to end the program, however we will continue to reassess this based on the masking environment as things move forward,” Maxted said.

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Author: Saira Peesker, CBC
Image: Mohawk College