After the messaging from public health officials changed to strongly encourage the use of N95 and other single-use masks over reusable ones, Humber College’s Office of Sustainability noticed a somewhat troubling trend.
More and more of the masks were winding up in garbage bins on campus, destined to be sent to landfills.
“We really saw an uptick of masks in waste bins,” said Lindsay Walker, associate director of sustainability at Humber. “So, we looked into the options of how we could address that.”
The college had already been working with the company TerraCycle to collect and recycle pens and markers. TerraCycle also has a Zero Waste Box – which allows for the recycling of non-standard items such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
Bringing these Zero Waste Boxes to the college’s North and Lakeshore campuses was what Walker called a “no-brainer.”
“The bottom line is our world is filled with stuff we only use once,” said Walker. “While our main focus is on reduction, in this case there’s not much you can do to reduce so we wanted to get them collected and recycled.”
It’s not just masks that can be recycled. Also accepted are beard nets, disposable gloves, ear plugs, non-woven disposable garments, hair nets and safety glasses and goggles as well.
The boxes can be found across Humber’s campuses.
• Residence Café
• Street Café
• Learning Resource Commons (first floor)
• D Building
• L Building (second floor)
• A/B Building (across from the bookstore)
The first boxes arrived on campus in early 2021 and, since then, about 115 pounds worth of used PPE have been shipped back to TerraCycle to be sorted and then processed into usable forms.
The boxes are once again starting to get full so even more of the masks and PPE will be sent off for recycling soon.
The Office of Sustainability has been working diligently to spread awareness of the initiative. They mentioned it during town halls, promoted it on their social media accounts and created stickers to place on garbage bins around the campus to let the community know that masks shouldn’t be tossed in the trash but, recycled instead.
Walker said Humber has recycling programs in place for a variety of other items such as ink cartridges, batteries, light bulbs, HVAC filters and even oil from the kitchens, just to name a few.
The office also instituted the O2GO Reusable Container program in which users pay a small one-time deposit and receive their meals in containers that, when finished being used, are cleaned and sanitized by the college to be used again. This program is available at the North Campus’ Street Café and Residence Cafeteria and at the Lakeshore Campus’ A/B Cafeteria.
Walker said that program is just one example of Humber’s ongoing commitment to waste reduction and eliminating single-use items whenever possible.
Also, as part of the college’s sustainability efforts, there are plans later this summer to institute a carpool matching app as part of the Smart Commute program that will let users find others who want to carpool, reducing the number of vehicles on the road. The college also offers a reduced parking rate for those who carpool.