Metro Vancouver residents trashed more than 500 million pieces of PPE last year, report finds

A new report is offering insight into how much additional trash is ending up in Metro Vancouver landfills amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, tabled Friday by Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee, found that an estimated 528 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) were disposed of in 2020 — about 194 items for every resident. Gloves were the most commonly disposed item (about 136 per person), followed by masks (about 40 per person). Synthetic wipes, not including paper towels or toilet paper, came in third, at about 18 per person. The report notes the more than half-a-billion items of PPE may actually be an undercount, “as it is uncertain if overall contributions of personal protective equipment from health-care waste, which contains high concentrations of certain personal protective equipment, have been accurately estimated.” It also notes the data was collected before B.C. made the use of masks mandatory in indoor public spaces. “Typically these items are non-recyclable. There are reusable options out there and we encourage residents to use those where its appropriate and if they are comfortable doing so. But if they are more comfortable wearing disposable options, then we encourage them to bag them, bin them, put them in the garbage rather than them ending up on the ground,” Metro Vancouver solid waste services senior project engineer Terry Fulton said. Despite the high number, the items still only represented about 0.5 per cent of the region’s total waste in 2020, Fulton said. Additionally, while a high number of PPE items were disposed of in 2020, the amount of other single-use products ending up in landfills was actually down compared to 2018, and overall waste disposal dropped by about 4.0 per cent. Disposable cups and utensils saw the largest drop, which Metro Vancouver attributed to impacts in the business sector. Retail bags and takeout containers saw the largest increase, as people shifted to restaurant takeout and delivery amid provincial health orders and guidelines. Last year was the first year Metro Vancouver tracked PPE in its waste stream, though Fulton said it would monitor the effects going forward. The region has also created a new website with information on safe disposal of PPE and washing instructions for reusable items.