Undergraduate Student Government, Sustainable Carolina and UNC Green Labs have launched a limited-time mask collection program to recycle disposable face masks on campus.
The collaborative effort seeks to reduce waste and pollution caused by the large amount of mask disposal.
“If you’re wasting like five masks a day, you have to take into account your carbon footprint,” junior Mary-Catherine Gray, Student Government sustainability coordinator, said. “Make sure you take into account what’s happening to that mask, because 129 billion disposable masks end up in the landfill each month.”
Each collection bin can hold up to 2,100 masks, and the bins are placed at six locations on campus: the Student Union, Student Recreation Center, Lenoir Dining Hall, the Genome Sciences Building, Kenan-Flagler Business School and outside Beach Cafe in Brinkhous-Bullitt.
Gray initially pitched the idea last year.
Senior Noah Upchurch, assistant director of environmental affairs for Student Government, said the idea was dropped at first, but it regained traction over the summer and came to fruition in November.
“(Gray said) the masks lying around on the ground, it's dirtying up our campus," Upchurch said. "It does not accurately reflect the beauty of what Carolina should be. And we know that we can throw them away, but there has to be another way that we can get rid of them as well."
The bins are regularly monitored by student and staff volunteers, and Upchurch is working with the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group to create a volunteer database that oversees the proper use of the mask recycling bins.
Cindy Shea, sustainability director for Sustainable Carolina, said in an email statement that full boxes are sent to TerraCycle, a company that collects non-recyclable waste to turn it into raw material to be used in new products. The masks are then pulverized, and the powder created from them is used to manufacture reusable shipping pallets, park benches, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, railroad ties and other items.