Moose Jaw’s Primary Eye Care Centre is participating in a recycling program with Burnaby, B.C.-based Vitacore Industries, Inc. to try and reduce waste.
The pandemic has exponentially increased the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) which ends up in landfills. Masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields have become a common sight littered onto the side of roadways and washing up on shorelines.
The Canadian government reported that in a one-year span (June 2020 to June 2021), approximately 63,000 tons of COVID-19-related PPE were disposed of. Most of that ended up in landfills.
In February 2021, Burnaby’s Vitacore Industries Inc. launched the countries first recycling program for COVID-19 PPE. One of the challenges of recycling such materials is that they are assumed to be contaminated with the virus – particularly if they come from hospitals or other medical care facilities.
That’s why Vitacore partnered with the University of British Columbia and McMaster University to make a recycling program work.
The masks and other PPE collected by Vitacore are sterilized before being sent for the rest of the recycling process. After compaction and shredding, the plastic is melted down into polypropylene pellets. The pellets can be reused in applications such as construction and concrete reinforcement.
Businesses can buy one of the recycling bins from Vitacore’s website. Christie Large, an optometric assistant at Primary Eye Care Centre (PECC) who takes care of their PPE ordering, said that when they heard about the program, they decided that was something they wanted to be part of.
Large said that the incentive for PECC was “just to try and be responsible with the large amount of masks that we use.”
The medium-size bin they have in their office can hold up to 600 gloves and masks. When it’s full, the bag inside can be sealed. A prepaid carrier label comes with the bin, and the bag goes back to Vitacore.
For now, the recycling bin is used only by the office staff at PECC, but it’s a start towards greater sustainability. As awareness of environmental factors and greenhouse gas emissions grows culturally, the costs of manufacturing and disposal become more apparent. The government is actively seeking innovative ideas for decreasing additional waste generated by the pandemic response, including biodegradable PPE.