A growing global environmental crisis about how to deal with disposable face masks has not yet reached B.C., according to recycling officials.
Both the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) and Recycle BC said the issue has not yet shown up on their radars when contacted by Black Press Media.
Last week, media reports emerged in the UK of the public throwing away 53 million masks each day.
The huge number of face masks being put into a bin or dropped on the street is raising concerns about the number of which might be leaking into rivers and the sea, said Charlotte Green, with the waste company TradeWaste.co.uk.
“If you walk around any street now you will see disposable face masks being blown around with leaves in the gutter – they are the new cigarette butt – people are chucking them after use,” Green said.
“We know that 53 million are being sent to the landfill each day – but just how many ends up elsewhere is the very scary part.”
Green said disposable masks contain ear loops and metal pieces used to grip the nose which was often intact when masks are discarded, raising fears they could become entangled around animals and wildlife, especially when they end up in watercourses.
Rae Stewart, waste reduction facilitator for RDCO, said there are no Central Okanagan recycling options for disposable face masks at this time.
While the public is advised to dispose of those masks in the garbage destined for the landfill and not the recycle carts, Stewart said reusable cloth masks would be a preferred option from their perspective – readily available, reusable, cost-effective, sustainable and customizable.
“Disposable masks have their place, but not for everyday use/wear,” Stewart said.
David Lefebvre, director, public affairs west for Recycle BC, echoed Stewart’s sentiments, saying disposable masks are not accepted in their recycling program.
“We are not mandated to collect them and they present a health and safety concern for collection and processing staff who must remove them,” said Lefebvre.
“As far as recycling options, we have not come across any of note.”