College launches disposable mask recycling program

March 2, 2021

Red River College is tossing masks into the recycling bin and keeping them out of the landfill.

While a lot of people have chosen to wear reusable masks during the pandemic, many others are using disposable masks out of preference or necessity. Together, these masks amount to a staggering amount of waste.

To help keep people safe, RRC distributes more than 6,000 disposable masks every month to students, staff and visitors to its campuses. That’s why the polytechnic — which has continued to fuel the economy by providing hands-on training during the pandemic — is proud to launch a disposable mask recycling program.

“We’ve set up disposable mask recycling boxes at our Notre Dame Campus, located outdoors in high-traffic areas,” says Sara MacArthur, Director of Campus Planning and Sustainability. “As people leave our buildings, they can take off and toss their masks into one of the boxes to be recycled.”

Once a recycling box is full, it’s securely sealed and safely stored for 72 hours. After that, it’s sent to a facility in New Jersey, where the masks are disassembled, sorted and bundled for new use.

The metal nose pieces are smelted into bar stock and metal sheeting, the polypropylene face covering is crushed to make composite decking, shipping pallets and other products, and the ear bands are ground into a fine mesh to mix with other recycled products.

“RRC continues to be recognized as a leader in sustainability, and this new program is no exception,” says Melanie Gudmundson, Chief Human Resource Officer at RRC. “We provide disposable medical-grade masks for people to use in our labs and spaces to enhance safety on campus, and we’re proud of the innovative work our team has done to make this accommodation sustainable.”

RRC is Manitoba’s only polytechnic — and it’s also the only post-secondary institution in the province with a mask recycling program like this one.

“We’re proud to have a number of waste and recycling programs at RRC that give materials new life,” says MacArthur. “This new program will keep thousands of disposable masks from ending up in the landfill, which of course has a positive impact on the environment.”

RRC is currently exploring ways to bring this program to its other campuses. In the meantime, the polytechnic is proving it’s possible to protect the community and the environment at the same time.

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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