Face masks and antigen tests contaminating recycling plants

Ireland’s biggest recycling plant is awash with face masks and medical waste among other Covid-related paraphernalia.

“We see everything. Face masks are a huge problem, and they’re not recyclable. They’re the disposable blue ones, they’re composite, which means they’re a mix or blend of materials and therefore not recyclable,” said Liam Dunne, general manager of Panda’s materials recovery facility.

The plant processes recycling waste from 350,000 homes in Ireland every day and Covid is present in more ways than one.

“We get the used swabs from the antigen tests, the plastic cartridges and the antigen tests themselves – none of them are recyclable. These are medical waste,” Dunne said. at the Irish Examiner.

While robots and magnets divide trash into categories like aluminum and paper, humans separate trash at the start of the line to pick up everything from soiled diapers to dead animals, and now further medical waste Covid and used masks.

Another impact of Covid is the composition of our waste. With more people working from home, there is a lot more household waste being generated, Mr Dunne said. There is a 30-35% increase in home recycling. And with an increase in online shopping, the amount of cardboard has increased dramatically.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in cardboard and I’ve been here for 10 years. Before, we would have maybe 6% cardboard and 50-55% paper, if you broke 100% of the material.

But then, with paperless bills and the move to the internet, paper went down to 40% over the years.

“But with the lockdown, the box jumped to 10% and then it almost doubled to about 16-18% of everything we process. Everything you buy comes in a box these days,” Mr. Dunne said.

Another thing that has changed in the last two years in our recycling is that soft plastics such as cling film and wrap are now allowed to go in the green bin.

Many people were putting soft plastics in their green bin before it was allowed and so there has only been an increase of around 2-4% in soft plastics at Ireland’s largest recycling plant since the introduction of the national change in September 2021.

Food contamination

These plastics, used mainly to cover food, contaminate waste unless they are cleaned. These plastics always arrive contaminated.

“If people are putting nasty food-covered plastic pieces in their green bin, they need to be sorted out and taken out,” Mr Dunne said.

Dumpsters and dump bags are also being used a lot more, with people spending more time at home – and that part of their business has doubled in the summer of 2020.

And the increase in the consumption of beverages at home, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, is also showing up in our garbage cans.

“Aluminum cans are on the rise because people are consuming drinks at home. There is also an increase in PET bottles – so carbonated water and carbonated drinks are being consumed at home,” Ms. Dunne.

This year, Christmas was also extremely busy, so much so that it was difficult to find staff to cover the influx.

A pre-pandemic problem is that people are putting soiled diapers and other contaminated products in their green bin.

“When people put food waste and nappies in, there’s a person who has to take them out. mywaste.ie really is a great resource for what you can and can’t recycle,” Dunne said.

About Derick Walton

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