Resource Use

TerraCycle unveils recycling system for single-use PPE

Waste management company TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box hopes to provide a ‘recycling solution’ for single-use PPE items, such as gloves and face masks.

Zero Waste BoxThe system will offer individuals, households, schools, businesses, manufacturing facilities and events an opportunity to recycle single-use PPE, material considered ‘non-recyclable’ in traditional recycling systems.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), from 25 February 2020 to 30 June 2022, it ‘distributed 21.5 billion items of PPE, predominantly for use by health and social care services in England’.

As a result, the recycling company has highlighted a need to ‘rethink our attitude to recycling and find a sustainable solution for this kind of waste’.

Julien Tremblin, General Manager of TerraCycle, told Resource that so far, ‘3,705 boxes for gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment’ have been sold, resulting in ‘9,449.92kg of waste’ being returned by customers.

It is hoped that Zero Waste Boxes, placed in various public spaces, will prevent PPE waste from ending up in landfill, contaminating waterways, becoming litter on the street and being incinerated.

Waste is sent to TerraCycle by customers using the ‘pre-paid and pre-attached shipping label which comes with each Zero Waste Box’, Julien Tremblin explained to Resource. When the boxes are full, customers can schedule a collection with UPS and the box will be delivered to the company’s ‘Materials Recovery FAcility’ in Darwen, Lancashire. Here, it will be weighed upon receipt.

TerraCycle will then store and aggregate the collected PPE waste ‘until the necessary volumes of processing have been achieved’, Julien Tremblin said. Following this, waste is sorted into categories based on material composition, done ‘using a wide array of sorting technologies including manual sortation, size separation, sink/float, optical, air density, gravity and magnetic’.

Tremblin clarified the final part of the PPE waste journey: “The different material types are then sent to third-party processing partners that recycle the materials into usable forms. For example, the polypropylene-dominant mixture from face masks is densified into a crumb-like raw material that is used in applications such as plastic lumber, and 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.

“We use Evreka’s waste management software throughout the process, which allows us to track the waste through every stage of the supply chain and processing, as well as allowing a much higher standard of third-party certification of our recycling claims.”

As explained by TerraCycle, after being aggregated, the PPE waste is then cleaned and melted into pellets, which are used by third parties to manufacture a variety of new products, including outdoor furniture, plastic shipping pallets, bins and storage containers.

TerraCycle has clarified that its PPE Zero Waste Box does not accept fabric, homemade or paper face masks but can collect surgical-type masks – as long as they do not come from a medical environment, due to legal guidelines.

In line with safety measures surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak, TerraCycle has warned that ‘anyone self-isolating, quarantined or suspected of being infected with Covid-19, should not use the Zero Waste Box solution to recycle their PPE material’. Instead, these individuals should follow Government guidelines on how to dispose of such waste.

A variety of different Boxes are available, including: Disposable Gloves and Face Masks Zero Waste Box,  Disposable Face Masks Zero Waste Box, Disposable Gloves Zero Waste Box and Safety Equipment and a Protective Gear Zero Waste Box.