Trenton-based TerraCycle has a solution for the surge of personal protective equipment the public is using amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Zero Waste Boxes to accumulate safety garments, masks, gloves, and other items not recyclable through conventional recycling facilities.
Photos of improperly discarded PPE on city sidewalks and in park bushes have been blasted all over news outlets and social media since the onset of COVID-19. Police in some towns across the nation, including East Brunswick, have reportedly started issuing fines for folks who toss their gloves or N95s on the ground.
Grocery stores, big box stores and parks departments can purchase the boxes to encourage people to responsibly dispose of their PPE on TerraCycle’s website for between $86 and $136. For larger scale projects, PPE recycling pallets range from $590 to $2,240.
TerraCycle branched out into the nonprofit world with its TerraCycle Global Foundation to focus on substantially reducing the volume of marine debris and plastic waste found in the world’s waterways—be it gloves, masks, plastic bags, straws, or six-pack rings.
Over half of ocean plastic comes from five countries—China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—and TCGF is actively working with the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources to install river plastic capture traps designed to increase the amount of debris collected from Thai waterways. The more debris collected in the waterways, the less debris reaches the ocean.
Through its relationships with regional waste management companies, TerraCycle Inc.’s network of research and development, and logistical and processing partners, the TCGF will recycle not only the waste collected through its own efforts but also the waste collected by all the other organizations participating in the Thai government’s marine debris management program. In the end, TCGF’s goal is to use recycled waste to make other things, from packaging for major global brands to use in road or construction materials.
Zero Waste Boxes were developed pre-pandemic, and reviews of the boxes on TerraCycle’s website come from cleaning businesses, aestheticians, and cooks. But now, folks who never wear gloves or masks in the professional realm are wearing them for a simple trip to ShopRite. In the Spring, Gov. Phil Murphy issued an order requiring masks to be worn indoors, making the New Jersey the first state to impose the requirement; on July 8, he mandated that masks be worn outdoors as well where social distancing isn’t possible.
French environmental nonprofit Opération Mer Propre warned of a surge in ocean pollution in May on its Facebook “after finding disposable masks floating like jellyfish and waterlogged latex gloves scattered across seabeds,” the Guardian reported.
“During this time of uncertainty, our Zero Waste Box program provides easy solutions for keeping waste out of landfills and paving the way for a greener future,” said TerraCycle Chief Executive Officer Tom Szaky in an announcement on the boxes. “Our goal is for all consumers to engage with TerraCycle recycling programs in a safe manner.”
When a box is full, the owner can return it to TerraCycle for processing. The PPE is cleaned, melted and remolded to make new products, much like TerraCycle’s other collected hard-to-recyclables.