Spring clean-ups are underway across northeastern Ontario.
And along with the usual candy wrappers and coffee cups, disposable plastic masks are also now often seen among the litter on the ground.
“I feel we’ve moved backwards a little bit and it’s become a little more acceptable to litter,” says Abby Obenchain, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie environmental group Clean North.
“‘I don’t know what to do with this mask, so I’m just going to drop it on the ground.'”
She’d like to see more workplaces encouraging employees to wear re-usable cloth masks and have more strategically placed garbage cans, preferably with open tops so people won’t be squeamish about touching a lid to throw out their mask.
Even masks that are properly thrown out end up in the dump, because they can’t be recycled.
Jean-Luc Labonte owns R and D Recycling and processes the contents of blue boxes from across northeastern Ontario and a sorting plant just outside of North Bay.
Over the past year his staff have regularly been picking masks and gloves out of the bottles and cans and papers streaming by on the conveyor belts.
“People are under the impression that everything is recyclable, but there is no market whatsoever for that material,” says Labonte.
He says they stopped collecting the blue boxes from the North Bay hospital out of fear of COVID contamination.
“Because it came from the hospital, we didn’t want to take a chance. And we’re trying to protect our people on the line too. If anything happened, we would have to close down,” says Labonte.
The Sudbury hospital says it went through 265,000 masks last month, compared with about 40,000 per month pre-pandemic.
Health Sciences North says it does clean and re-use some gowns and eye wear, which is also done at Sault Area Hospital.