I was walking through Turner Hall today when I saw a new bin amongst the other recycling and trash bins - it was a trash bin for disposable masks. The box had a couple things written on it, the main two comments that caught my eye were: “Recycle Disposable Masks” and “Zero Waste Box”. Above that was a sign that outlined the process of single-use mask recycling. Though it’s pretty self explanatory (you can put old, single use, masks in a sealed bag and then place them in the recycling bin) at the bottom of the sign, it says that the used masks are then shipped to TerraCycle where they become new materials. TerraCycle is an organization that recycles a variety of different items after you collect them. Items can vary from coffee and tea accessories, plastic cups to even old art supplies, and now they have a box option for specifically non-woven disposable plastic-based masks (3-ply surgical, dust masks, KN95, and N95 masks).
I immediately thought of the circular economy when reading this. Though this process is not considered upcycling since the items still have to be processed before being turned into other items, I think it can be a useful example of the circular process, instead of the current linear one. However, one of the challenges of the circular economy and overall sustainability options is that they tend to be more expensive. We saw this in several examples in the discussion last week, and I think that even though TerraCycle is working towards something great, the consumer still has to purchase these zero waste recycling boxes. Prices can range from $80 to $150 depending on the type of item and size of the box. While large scale businesses and institutions could most likely afford this, small businesses may not be able to. That being said, I was really happy when I saw this in Turner Hall, and I’m glad our university is working towards sustainability.