Our current project is focused on collecting used disposable masks, N95 and surgical masks, in the Hinsdale area to send to a special recycling center (Terracycle). The Hinsdale community has 32 local landfills! That means every time we throw away our mask, it’s added to the pile that’s incinerated. And it’s a large pile. Every minute of the day, we throw away 3 million masks. That’s 4.3 billion masks a DAY! During this process, harmful microplastics are released in the air which contribute to air and water pollution. If we continue to use masks at the rate we do, air and water quality in our community and across the United States will become a threat to public health.
To help solve the problem, we’re planning to set up mask recycling bins throughout our community at public facilities. These bins will provide users opportunities to drop them off and allows us to send them to Terracycle for sustainable processing. The trouble with individuals recycling masks individually is that it’s very expensive to separate and reuse the materials in disposable masks. Sustainable Health takes care of all the fees and fundraises to purchase bins for public centers. When it becomes warmer, we also plan to clean up local parks that have masks littered. Not only are we holding a mask drive, in conjunction with it we are also implementing an advocacy campaign for cutting the straps of face masks’ ear loops. When left uncut, these strings can get tangled on animals, trees, and plants, harming wildlife and the ecosystem.
So far, we have placed mask recycling bins at local schools and community centers and placed our “Snap the Strap” campaign throughout the Chicagoland suburbs at various facilities. We will update the site as we collect more information! In the meantime read our article about mask pollution to learn more about why we’re doing what we’re doing.