‘Smarten up’: Littered masks in Winnipeg a health hazard – and they’re not recyclable

A discarded mask on a Winnipeg street.
A discarded mask on a Winnipeg street. Shane Gibson / Global News

Winnipeggers are wearing masks in an effort to protect against COVID-19 and attempt to lower the city’s number of coronavirus cases, but used masks — specifically the disposable kind — are causing another problem.

Tom Ethans, executive director of Take Pride Winnipeg, told 680 CJOB used masks are beginning to litter Winnipeg streets — and besides being an eyesore, they can also be a health hazard.

“They can be contaminated, and when people are picking them up, it’s not very good for the health of the person who’s picking it up,” said Ethans.

“Let’s be smart about the fact that you should not be taking these disposable items and throwing them on the ground.

“People need to smarten up — just because it’s snowing on the ground, doesn’t mean you’re not going to see these masks and gloves. People have to dispose of them properly.”

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Read more: Manitoba spends millions on recycling amid coronavirus

Proper disposal means in a garbage can, not a recycling bin.

Mark Kinsley of the City of Winnipeg’s waste diversion branch said the masks aren’t recyclable and can cause problems if they’re tossed in a blue bin.

“The system just isn’t designed to handle it, so we’re asking people just to use the garbage when they need to, when they’re finished using the mask,” Kinsley told 680 CJOB.

“There’s so many products out there, and people are trying to do their best for the environment… but there’s a lot of items that can’t be recycled.”

Kinsley said the masks are made of multiple materials, including paper, cloth and elastic bands, and aren’t on the city’s list of acceptable recyclables.

Not only do masks — which get filtered in with paper during the sorting process — require extra work from recycling staff to pull them out, they can also contaminate finished recycled products and get caught up in the equipment.

“There’s a number of issues that it causes,” he said.

Click to play video 'Take Pride’s Tom Ethans says we’re trying to recycle but failing' Take Pride’s Tom Ethans says we’re trying to recycle but failing
Take Pride’s Tom Ethans says we’re trying to recycle but failing – Oct 8, 2019