Can You Recycle Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
Short answer: NO! Even if it’s made of plastic, it’s a bad idea for you, the recycling center, and employees. Here’s why.
Even though masks have become an important fixture in our lives, we all know how relieving it is to remove the stuffy material after running errands in the summer heat.
And when it’s finally time to toss the sweaty mask, hopefully it’s into the wash (as a reusable version). If it’s disposable, it’s our responsibility to ensure we discard it properly.
Can you recycle PPE?
Single-use masks, gloves, and other PPE are NOT recyclable and should be placed in the trash.
In addition to not being recyclable, they are also a risk: it’s likely that these items have interacted with blood, saliva, or other dangerous contaminants that subject the employees sorting recyclables at material recovery facilities (MRFs) to exacerbated health risks.
Philadelphia’s recycling system increases the amount of human-material interaction as well. The city uses single-stream recycling, which means that all paper fibers, plastics, metals, and other recyclable materials are mixed in a collection truck and dumped at MRFs. Materials are then sorted through both equipment and human labor after they arrive at recycling centers.
The technology doesn’t stop human interaction with potentially hazardous objects.
Recycling PPE can also impede facility operations. Rubber gloves and masks often jam equipment, forcing employees to halt work and remove the culprit by hand.
“A mask with an elastic band — anything that has a tendency to wrap — is just a maintenance headache. An employee is going to wind up cutting it off a shaft during a maintenance shift,” explained Tom Outerbridge, the general manager of several recycling facilities in New York City to Vice.
Just because you can’t recycle PPE doesn’t mean they should be thrown on the sidewalk, either. Be sure to dispose of your waste in a trash can and take extra care to properly separate your recyclables from your trash.
Even better, buy reusable masks instead of single-use ones. There are several small businesses selling reusable masks in the city, and doing so is a simple way to keep Philadelphia clean and healthy as we weather the pandemic.
Cover photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash