Recycling of Personal Protective Equipment

Single-use personal protective equipment (masks, gloves etc.) are hard to recycle in traditional recycling systems as they cost more for local recyclers to collect and process than the resulting materials are worth.  

TerraCycle is able to recycle such waste streams through our Zero Waste Box™ paid recycling services where interested locations can fund the actual cost of collecting and recycling this waste stream minus what the resulting recycled materials are worth.

For many years, TerraCycle had offered PPE recycling for facilities and other industrial locations. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we revised the system to cater to the broader demand in PPE recycling that is present today.

Recycling Bins and ZWBs

The TerraCycle process works as follows:

1. Collection

The PPE (such as disposable face masks, visors, disposable gloves, ear plugs, beard snoods, hair nets, safety glasses or disposable garments etc.) are collected in the Zero Waste Box that was purchased. Once the box is full, it should be sealed and sent back to TerraCycle using the prepaid return label that is located on the back of each box.

Please note: In accordance with legal guidelines, we cannot accept medical waste, such as material contaminated with blood or bodily fluids or wastes from healthcare facilities, hospitals, home care, doctors' offices, dental offices, blood banks, veterinary clinics, research laboratories, etc. We also cannot accept fabric, homemade or paper masks in our PPE Zero Waste Box™.

 

2. Check-In:

When the shipment arrives at a dedicated TerraCycle Material Recovery Facility (“MRF”), always in the country of collection, it is checked in and weighed. All Zero Waste Boxes are quarantined on arrival for a minimum of 72 hours to protect our team members handling the waste. 

Our team then visually inspects the waste for visible contamination and consolidates it into a bulk format to be transported for processing at our various third-party facilities that specialize in processing the waste into recycled materials.

3. Recycling

TerraCycle stores and aggregates the collected PPE waste until the necessary volumes for processing have been achieved. The waste is then sorted into categories based on material composition (rubbers, metals, non-woven plastic, elastane, etc.) by utilizing a wide array of sorting technologies including manual sortation, size separation, sink/float, optical, air density, gravity, magnetic, etc. 

The different materials types are then sent to third-party processing partners that recycle the materials into usable forms (i.e., non-woven plastics are recycled into plastic pellets and granules.)

The metals are manually removed and sent locally for smelting into new bar stock and metal sheeting.

The polypropylene-dominant mixture from the face mask is densified into a crumb-like raw material that is used in plastic lumber and composite decking applications.

The elastane or rubber band portion is ground into a fine mesh regrind and mixed with recycled plastics as an additive to provide flexibility and malleability to products.

Gloves are processed into a rubberized powder which is used for flooring tiles, playground surface covers and even athletic fields.

4. New Products

The resulting recycled material is used by third parties to manufacture a variety of new products including outdoor furniture, plastic shipping pallets, outdoor decking, watering cans, storage containers, bins, tubes for construction applications, etc.

PPE Steps

What safety measures are in place for the collection and recycling of PPE waste?

  • TerraCycle does not collect hazardous waste from hospitals and medical centers.
  • Your Zero Waste Box should be fully sealed with adhesive tape and stored securely for 72 hours before requesting a collection.
  • We will quarantine any PPE waste coming into our facilities for a minimum of 72 hours for the safety of our operators.

Are disposable face masks and other PPE recycled in the United States?

Yes.

Why use Zero Waste Box? 

Zero Waste Box is a turnkey and convenient solution which includes the storage, shipping and recycling of a waste stream that isn’t currently locally recyclable.

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