By Tom Szaky
People who may not have even been familiar with the term PPE (personal protective equipment) before COVID-19 are now regularly using it and to minimize the risk of spread and exposure, so are many multi-sector businesses and facilities open and operating during this time.
Healthcare, food, and construction are among industries likely scaling upon existing guidelines, and facilities such as offices, colleges, and shopping malls may be having their first experiences requiring this degree of PPE use. Many retail locations now require staff and customers to wear a mask while indoors, as well as outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.
Mandated by local governments or voluntarily installed, the protocols for PPE use are intended for the safety and comfort of employees, customers, clients, and the public in the face of this tremendous global challenge. But with these solutions come another problem: single-use plastic waste.
Accessible, convenient, and relatively inexpensive, single-use gloves, face masks, and shields are available for purchase at nearly every grocery and convenience store, and in bulk through e-commerce and wholesale. Designed to be disposable and thrown away after one use, these low material value items are not considered economically recyclable, especially now.
The vinyl, nitrile, and latex of single-use gloves are too light and thin to be collected for recovery through public recycling systems, and surgical and industrial masks and shields are complex, with layers of film and composite plastic with metal nose fitters that need separating.
Without traditional recycling options, these items are likely to end up in landfills. However, we are seeing them miss the garbage can entirely, ending up littered and improperly disposed, strewn about in parking pots, on sidewalks, and in front of essential businesses. Not only is this a troubling eye-sore, but another hit to the environment.
Litter prevention is a challenge, as is ensuring we don’t see “more masks than jellyfish” in the ocean. Facilities managers are in a position to create efficiencies within their organization and strike a balance between protecting their business and the planet.
Our TerraCycle Regulated Waste division recently launched an easy-to-use recycling solution for PPE through our line of EasyPak™ containers. Designed for businesses in need of a turnkey solution, these all-in-one solutions help facilitate on-site recycling for used gloves and masks, allowing staff to responsibly dispose of their protective gear.
There are two different types of EasyPak containers for disposable masks and disposable gloves and when full, the boxes can be conveniently sealed and returned to TerraCycle for processing so collected materials can be cleaned, melted, and remolded to make new products. Discarded material can travel for up to a week before they are received at our facilities where additional safety precautions are taken in accordance with CDC recommendations.
Available for purchase through a reorder subscription program, the EasyPak containers and other offerings for facilities waste can become a part of a sustainability strategy for facility management teams — providing EPA, OSHA and ACGIH compliance, value for shareholders, and now, adherence to CDC guidelines.
Every type of facility can benefit from a PPE recycling program. One interesting example is The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, who with our help is the first Las Vegas-based property, and one of the first resorts in the nation, to develop a program to recycle surgical face masks used by guests and staff. The more people, the more PPE used, so this addition to the organization’s already robust sustainability programming is a great effort.
Safe, sustainable transitions out of lockdown and into a new economy depend on the use of PPE, at least for right now. In order to protect the planet for future business, development, and prosperity, industry must take responsibility for its impacts and set an example for the individuals they serve. The sustainability of the environment and its systems depend on this, and easy, convenient solutions are available to support them.
Szaky is Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of complex waste streams. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with some of the world’s largest brands, retailers, and manufacturers to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration. TerraCycle’s Regulated Waste division manages the collection and recycling of fluorescent lamps, bulbs, batteries, scrap electronics, organic waste, medical waste, and other materials. The division was formed in November 2017, after TerraCycle’s acquisition of Air Cycle Corporation, which brokered recycling services for fluorescent bulbs and batteries.
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