It’s estimated that Quebec students will use over 318 million surgical masks by the end of the school year, most of which will end up in landfills.
“A mask will stay a mask for 400 years. So the emergency right now is to collect the mask and then to treat it correctly,” said Eric Ethier, the president of Go Zero.
The Quebec company recycles at a facility in Bromont. It collects personal protective equipment (PPE) from drop points, sorts the different parts and converts the masks into plastic pellets that can be used for future products.
“We accept surgical mask, a three-layer mask, procedural mask, N95 respirators,” he said. “So all kind of disposable masks can be 100 per cent recyclable.”
Elementary students in grades 1 to 6 and high school students are required to wear a new disposable mask provided by the government each day. When the Ministry of Education announced the mandate for high school students in January, it invited schools to collect used masks to try and keep them out of landfills.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said expenses for the recovery and recycling of the masks will be covered by the provincial government.
But as of this week, most English school boards still have no mask recycling plan in place.
The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board is the only institution working with Go Zero. A mask recycling pilot project is being run at three schools.
“It’s a matter of understanding if we will be reimbursed. Once we get confirmation that everything will be reimbursed, then we’re at a different level, then we can implement it and we can bring it forward to all schools,” said Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chairperson Paolo Galati.
When contacted by Global News, this is what other school boards had to say about mask recycling programs:
- Lester B. Pearson is following the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines, disposing of the PPE in the trash.
- Riverside has tasked its schools with mask collection but says it is still working on a course of action.
- New Frontiers does not have a plan in place. It says the programs are expensive.
- The EMSB continues to source companies but has no plan in place.
In a statement, the Education Ministry writes that all school boards were given materials surrounding the recycling program, adding if the program is properly followed, expenses related to COVID-19 like mask recycling will be considered for reimbursement.
Ethier said the ministry needs to be more direct with their instructions if it wants school boards to implement recycling programs.
“We are asking for a while to have more leadership from governments regarding domestic recycling, because it’s still unclear for the school how they can participate to this.”
He puts the onus on the government to ensure that keeping kids safe now doesn’t turn into a larger environmental problem in the future.
— With files from The Canadian Press