Accumulation of PPE waste poses health risks for recycling employees

Jan 25, 2022 | News

For Francis Veilleux, president of The Bluewater Recycling Association, concerns about employees working in recycling facilities and contracting the coronavirus due to incorrect disposal of PPE waste is a lingering issue for the future.

“There are people behind it all that make it happen. If our employees contract the virus and are sent home, this will give us problems because without staff the recyclables can’t be collected and then can’t be processed,” Veilleux said.

Garbage volume, including PPE waste, has increased during the pandemic, and it creates numerous dangers for employees. Gloves, masks, and rapid tests should be put in a bag and sealed and put into the garbage for curb pickup.

PPE put into recycling bins, however, are sent to recycling sorting facilities to be separated and organized, according to the City of Toronto’s website. It’s removed as much as possible at a Material Recovery Facility contracted by the city by staff — who wear their own PPE to protect themselves — while sorting on the conveyor belt.

“Fresh biohazardous material that is found on the line results in a shutdown. With protective gear and a biohazardous container, it is disposed of according to the law,” Veilleux said.

The sorted material is then sent to the Toronto-owned Green Lane Landfill in London, Ont., where it is covered at night and waste slowly decomposes. The landfill is a natural clay bed ball, and it prevents the liquids from the decomposition of waste from leaching into nearby waters.

“Certainly, we made some adjustments. One thing we struggle with is contamination and this creates significant challenges whether it be things getting stuck in the equipment, sharp needles, or hazardous waste,” said Katrusia Balan, project lead of Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services.

Balan said there are items that are popular because of the pandemic. Facilities must adapt to the questions received and the type of waste being generated. But she said used PPE should not go into the recycling, not because it may have a virus but also because the recycling program doesn’t accept these materials.

Stephanie Fernandes, the program manager of Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services, said there are numerous processes undertaken to ensure a minimal impact to the surrounding environment.

“For example, we have a leaks collection system where liquid created from waste and rainwater is cleaned before it goes into the large body of water,” she said.

The Waste Wizard tool is the city’s data base system the regularly updates items and how to correctly dispose of them. Educational resources are available on the city’s website and the Green Lane Landfill website page gives feedback and information for proper disposal of items.

“We send out an annual calendar or Waste Management Guide to every household in December, this year is a bit different based on the city council direction, so it’s a condensed version which will be mailed out this month,” Fernandes said.