Don’t Throw Away Disposable Face Masks, Recycle Them

Over the past several months, face masks have become the most important preventive measure in limiting the spread of COVID-19. And at less than $30 for a pack of 50, disposable masks are a convenient and inexpensive solution to help people meet CDC guidelines for always wearing masks in public settings and when they’re around people who don’t live in their household.

But environmentalists worry about the effects of widespread use of disposable masks, most of which are made from harmful single-use plastics. The United Nations estimates that around 75 per cent of used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, currently end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. Unless your employer has a different protocol in place, don’t throw away your used face masks, recycle them.

“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”

Disposable masks are not accepted by local curbside recycling programs and many of them end up littering neighborhoods, parks, and grocery store parking lots, where they pose a contamination risk to the workers who are responsible for collecting them. Take a walk around any city or suburb, and you’re likely to see at least one disposable mask discarded on the sidewalk or in the middle of the street.

A New Way to Keep PPE Out of Landfills or the Ocean

Service By Medallion has come up with an innovative solution that enables us to recycle masks as well as all the other disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) that our employees use every day. We’ve partnered with the company TerraCycle® that currently works in 20 countries to collect typically impossible-to-recycle items and transform them into useful new products.

At the job site, Medallion employees place used PPE into TerraCycle’s Safety Equipment and Protective Gear Zero Waste Box™. Employees are required to take extra care when touching discarded face masks, since traces of the virus may linger on masks for up to one week. The boxes come in three sizes so customers can choose the right one based on the amount of trash generated.

Once the box is full, we use the prepaid return label to ship the materials back to TerraCycle. The collected waste is then mechanically and/or manually separated into its recyclable components:
• Fibers (such as paper or wood-based products) are recycled or composted.
• Plastics undergo extrusion and pelletization to be molded into new recycled plastic products such as tote bags, shampoo bottles, and playground equipment.

In addition to PPE, TerraCycle recycles many items that have long been considered unrecyclable, including candy and snack wrappers, plastic packaging, shoes, razor blades, even chewing gum, dirty diapers, and cigarette butts—the most littered item in the world and one of the largest sources of ocean plastic pollution worldwide.

Thanks to our partnership with TerraCycle, Medallion is helping to keep our oceans safe and finding innovative new uses for the masks, gloves, garments, hairnets, beardnets, earplugs, and safety glasses our employees use every day.

Service by Medallion is a certified green business and a leader in providing sustainable commercial cleaning and buildings maintenance services to customers throughout Northern California, with offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and the East Bay. Contact us to learn more about how we help our customers achieve their Zero Waste initiatives.

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