Virus mutates, mask habits stay

Safely disposing of masks remains an issue


By Clarissa Kurniawan

A new COVID -19 variant isn’t changing old habits for Theresa Yee about how she wears protective masks. 

Yee, a first year early childhood education student, said she’s been wearing masks for the last two years since the start of the pandemic and it’s more important than ever to continue wearing hers. 

“It’s still important because there’s a new variant and people still can get it even after the vaccine.”

Yee said she wears a reusable mask, but for her volunteer work at a childcare centre, she’s required to wear a disposable mask. She throws away the disposable mask when she’s done her shift. 

Roughly thousands of masks are thrown away daily. Students like Yee have become used to wearing them and discarding the disposable ones while washing their reusable masks. Langara College has set up mask recycling bins around the campus to help prevent masks from going to landfills.

Tanja Jancic-Turner, student sustainability ambassadors coordinator at Langara College, said she continues to see discarded masks all over campus and across town.

“They basically will end up in the ocean which really bothers me,” she said. “Masks should be treated like biomedical waste and they shouldn’t be put in a regular garbage. Having separate container for them is a great idea.”

Jancic-Turner said masks are crucial and should be worn all the time. 

“I believe that between me trying to be healthy and improve my immunity, having the mask on that day is what helped me not catch the virus. I definitely believe in the protective power in wearing masks.”

Before she was vaccinated, she was sitting next to a person who was coughing.
“And I said oh, you’re coughing and he said no, this is just my allergy and the same evening he tested positive.”

Jancic-Turner said she hopes more mask users find out how to recycle their disposable masks. She is aware of the recycling bins in Building C on campus and has been using them regularly. 

“I think social media, flyers and sign around the bin would be helpful to let everyone know about the mask recycling bin,” she said. 

Recycling the masks

Andy Straisfeld, vice-president business development and partner of Lifecycle Revive in Brantford, Ont. said his company is trying to prevent masks from going to landfills. 

“The loops are removed, then the plastic are put in the machine and became plastic pallets and they are returned back to Canadian plastic industry for them to make all kinds of plastic for PPE or for general consumption,” Straisfeld said in an interview Monday. 

Lifecycle Revive sells boxes across the country including campuses like Langara to encourage more recycling of disposable masks. 

“We were created when Canada was hurting and didn’t have a supply, and now we’re keeping the supply and reclaiming plastics for Canada while we’re also keeping stuff out of landfills,” he said. 

Jessica Azarcon, a second year psychology student at Langara, said wearing masks is a selfless act that anyone can do for someone else. 

But she worries about the effects on the environment. 

Azarcon said she tries not to use disposable masks because she worries it will end up in the ocean. She makes sure to cut the ear lops off before disposing of her masks so it doesn’t affect sea creatures.

“There should be a better way to dispose our masks,” she said. 

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