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Masks and gloves go in the garbage, not recycling, York Region cities tell residents

A used protective face mask is seen discarded on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. in May 2020.
A used protective face mask is seen discarded on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. in May 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Several Ontario cities are reminding residents to throw their disposable masks, gloves and wipes in the garbage, not the recycling bin.

York Region — which includes Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan — said residents have increasingly been putting those items in their recycling or green bins since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The municipality said waste management staff have been finding more than 120,000 masks and gloves at their recycling sorting facility each month.

It said that could put frontline workers at a higher risk of getting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

“They’re being exposed to these materials. Ultimately, we want to protect the health and safety of those workers,” said Laura McDowell, director of York Region’s environmental promotion and protection department.

Read more: Plastic waste from personal protective equipment — the other coronavirus ‘plague’

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McDowell said such items, which are now being used widely, contaminate batches of recycling that are sold to provide revenue for the region.

Starting Monday, York Region said waste workers will not empty blue bins with those items and will place a warning sticker on them.

Nearby Peel Region, which includes Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, also urged residents to put such items in the garbage.

“To help keep everyone safe, we encourage residents to double-bag personal protective equipment, including masks, before disposing of it in the garbage,” said Erwin Pascual, Peel Region’s waste program planning manager.

“These items do not belong in recycling.”

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto has been asking residents since March to put tissues and paper towels in the garbage instead of the green bin, and says masks and gloves have always belonged in the garbage.

Both Toronto and Peel said they’ve seen an increase in masks and gloves littering outdoor spaces and are urging people to place those items in the trash.