Members of the East Carolina University community have shown concern about the improper disposal of one-use masks across the university’s campus and the waste that comes with the use of disposable masks.
Terri Little, recycling coordinator at ECU, said in an email statement that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, disposable masks and gloves have been spotted in the recycling bins on the university’s campus.
Little said that there are additional issues stemming from the recycling of masks, even when they are thought to have been disposed of properly.
“Mask and glove contamination is a serious problem for our recycling staff. Our bins are emptied and sorted manually. This means that they have to remove these items from our stream prior to delivery to our material recovery facility,” Little said.
Good recyclables are also thrown away because bins that have too many contaminants are put into the waste stream, Little said.
Robert Malpass, ECU ReLeaf president, said he is concerned about the use and disposal of non-reusable masks. He said there has been an increase in the number of masks that ReLeaf finds during trash pick-ups.
“This (littered masks) is a new thing we are going to be seeing in every area of pollution. Face masks, particles, everything that comes off them,” Malpass said.
The increase of masks in campus affairs and in dumps as a whole is the responsibility of the producer rather than the consumer, Malpass said, but the consumer still has a responsibility to dispose of waste properly.
“Of course, it’s on the producer for this type of stuff. Of course, still throw them in the trash and not on the ground,” Malpass said. “The student body doesn’t need to be the one that’s worrying about the recyclability of these things. They need to be worrying about keeping them on.”
Falone Longayo, a junior public health major, said she has seen students litter on campus but she said it’s easy for the campus to stay clean since ECU has garbage and recycling bins in most buildings and spread throughout campus.
Longayo said that she sees littered masks on campus every day but has an idea on how to combat this problem.
“ECU should have a volunteering (program) where students are able to clean the school. They’ll talk to people about how masks are important and not throw them on the ground for waste,” Longayo said.
Ama Annan, junior public health major, said that she has not noticed student littering on campus but has seen masks on the ground. She said it's not encouraging to see the mask litter, as it makes her feel like people don’t care about the campus.
Annan said she believes that adding educational signs on proper disposal of masks to campus and even giving fines to individuals that don’t comply is the solution.
“Hopefully we can address this important topic as we continue to improve,” Annan said. “Please wear reusable masks and dispose of single-use masks properly.”