Tags: Coronavirus | N95 | face masks | recycling | ppe | gloves

Why Throwing Gloves and Masks in the Recycling Bin Is a Health Hazard

n95 masks in recycling bins one with red plastic and the other with a clear bag
Previously worn N95 protective masks, saved for possible recycling in the future, sit in baskets in the Intensive Care Unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital on April 8, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 07 May 2020 06:28 AM

There’s a good reason why you should not throw your rubber gloves and masks into the recycling bin. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is not recyclable, and you are endangering the lives of workers at some facilities who have to remove these items by hand.

“We are seeing more masks and more gloves in the recycling bin, where they don’t belong,” said Glen Hulsenberg, the director of operations at California Waste Solutions.

According to Vice News, workers hand-sort trash from conveyor belts at most recycling facilities. They are considered essential workers and are protected with their own PPE.

But since the coronavirus can live on plastic for up to three days and as long as one day on fabric, handling a steady stream of gloves and masks could be life threatening for those workers.

“We’re all hands on,” Hulsenberg said. “We don’t have any robotics, so as it goes through, we’re pulling that off the line and putting it in the trash chutes.”

Even in sophisticated facilities where robots sort through the materials and filter out the trash from the recycling, rubber gloves and masks could jam up the equipment, according to Vice.

“A mask with an elastic band — anything that can wrap — is just a maintenance headache,” said Tom Outerbridge, the general manager of several SIMS recycling facilities in New York City.

Another reason why PPE items should not be recycled is that they may be contaminated.

Those in charge of recycling plants request one thing:

“Take a little time and put the recycling in the recycling bin and the other stuff in the trash,” said Outerbridge. “There’s all this appreciation for essential workers right now. Sorting recycling properly is a small gesture of goodwill that you could make, because we’re still going to work every day."

It goes without saying that you should also never dispose of PPE on the streets and sidewalks. This also has become an environmental hazard.

The problem is becoming so severe that health agencies have issued advisories against throwing masks and gloves away in public places. The Swampscott Police Department in Massachusetts is now fining people to $5,000 if they litter.

“We need to contain the spread of COVID-19 and do the right lawful thing by throwing these items in the trash,” said the Swampscott Police Department in a warning to its residents, according to CNN. “Please stop littering, this is making more work and worry for the people having to pick up this trash.”

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There's a good reason why you should not throw your rubber gloves and masks into the recycling bin. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is not recyclable, and you are endangering the lives of workers at some facilities who have to remove these items by...
N95, face masks, recycling, ppe, gloves
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2020-28-07
Thursday, 07 May 2020 06:28 AM
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