New mask recycling program supports more sustainable return to campus

February 16, 2022
Niki Finlayson and Mike Devolin, of SFU Facilities Services, pose with a mask recycling receptacle at SFU's Surrey campus.

A new mask recycling program at SFU aims to prevent thousands of disposable COVID-19 facemasks from ending up in a landfill.

Students, faculty, staff and visitors are encouraged to dispose their used masks into one of a dozen cardboard receptacles at all three campuses.

“The diversion of these products from landfill and the fact that they can be recycled into many other materials is a win for the campus and the environment,” says Mike Devolin, associate director, Facilities, at SFU’s Surrey campus.

On the guidance of public health, SFU has recently started encouraging people to wear properly fitted, three-layer masks.

“I’ve been sure going through a lot more masks,” says Mat Cocuzzi, assistant director, Facilities Services at SFU’s Vancouver campus. “I’m hoping that if people know the recycling containers are there that people will want to recycle them.”

Masks, regardless of whether they are three-layered, N-95, or N-99, are collected and recycled into pellets, which can be used to create non-woven textile for future masks. The pellets can also be used to create disposable isolation gowns and injection-molded items, which can then also be recycled.

The program is sourced through Staples and run by LifeCycle Revive, a personal protective equipment (PPE) recycler in Brantford, Ont.

Recycle your masks at these locations:

At Surrey campus, collection sites are located at the main entrances to campus buildings, with an additional collection site at Fraser Library.

At Vancouver campus, collection boxes are located at each of the main buildings – Harbour Centre, Segal Building, the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

At Burnaby campus, the boxes have been placed in the 3000 levels of the Bennett Library and the Maggie Benston Centre. They are also located in AQ near the Saywell Hall atrium and in Blusson Hall at the bus loop entry point.

The idea for the recycling containers arose out of a discussion last fall among Facilities leads at all three campuses. So far, the program has only seen moderate uptake. Facilities is hoping to see more masks recycled with increased awareness and activity on campuses.

“SFU has been dedicated to innovative circular processes like this mask upcycling program since 2015,” says Candace Le Roy, executive director of SFU Sustainability. “Until we have PPE materials made of biodegradable materials, this is the very best alternative. Recycling and upcycling not only reduces waste but decreases the energy and materials required for new products which also reduces our impact on climate change contributing to our net-zero goals.”