Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough installs recycling boxes for disposable masks

Borough mayor Alan DeSousa deemed it a fairly low-tech solution to a very 2020 problem.
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WATCH: Discarded masks and gloves have become more than just an eyesore as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, they are piling up in landfills and waterways. But as Global’s Benson Cook reports, the borough of Saint-Laurent is teaming up with a recycling company to tackle the mounting waste – Nov 11, 2020

The arrival of COVID-19 has caused a crisis beyond the pandemic: an epidemic of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in our environment.

A recent UN study estimated that about 75 per cent of masks and other PPE ultimately end up in landfills, or worse, bodies of water.

McGill University professor of chemistry Dr. Audrey Moores says that in Canada, it’s possible the number is even higher than that.

“We know that of all the plastics that are generated only nine per cent is being recycled in Canada, so this means that most of the rest is actually landfill, so it’s about 80 per cent,” she said.

“This is the same thing that happens to any piece of garbage in Canada,” she said, adding that the vast majority do ultimately wind up in landfills, and not rivers or lakes.

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

Now, the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent is trying a new way to keep PPE out of the trash.

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New recycling boxes, installed in local municipal buildings, give locals a sustainable way to discard masks and gloves.

Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa told Global News the program was originally just for city employees, who he says use about 2,000 masks a week in Saint-Laurent alone.

He deemed it a fairly low-tech solution to a very 2020 problem, adding, “we’re just glad that we found a solution to a problem that everyone is facing!”

While Saint-Laurent’s recycling program is the first, and so far, only, of its kind, DeSousa said he has already heard from colleagues in other boroughs led by his political party, Ensemble Montréal. At a forthcoming caucus meeting, he said he’ll make sure to bring it up.

“As I do with all my endeavours, I’ll be sharing it with them as well,” he said.

Read more: Saint-Laurent borough celebrates 125th anniversary

The boxes are a product of New Jersey-based TerraCycle, which says it’s actually been recycling masks and gloves for years.

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“Obviously, with the COVID epidemic, we’re getting a lot more volumes of this, but at Terracycle we’re always looking for streams that aren’t municipal waste, and this is a great example of that,” said Dylan Layfield, Terracycle’s senior materials solutions manager, in a Skype interview.

Once TerraCycle hauls the boxes full of used masks and gloves away, they turn them into something new: products ranging from shipping pallets to rubberized floor tiles.

The company says it’s eager to work with any other Quebec municipalities that might be interested in working with them.