Feb 22, 2022 - COVID

How to recycle your COVID-19 masks and tests in D.C.

Illustration of cotton swabs folded to form a recycling symbol.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Charlotte Dreizen wants you to recycle.

State of play: Dreizen is a sustainability manager with the American Institute of Architects who since last summer has used Twitter to tell D.C. residents what to do with their trash. She was previously with D.C.’s Department of Public Works’ Office of Waste Diversion.

  • “No community in the world has really ever been demonstrated to reduce waste more than 10 to 15%,” she says.  “We’re struggling to get people to recycle and compost in the most basic of ways, [so] reducing one’s waste seems like a much bigger, more complicated ask.”

That’s why we asked her how to best handle waste from used masks and COVID-19 testing kits.

Q. Is there a way to recycle disposable masks?

  • “I don’t think so. It sucks to say, but it’s true,” Dreizen tells Axios. So, put them into the trash. That’s because most disposable masks are made from non-woven polypropylene, which Dreizen calls a high-value plastic. But since it’s non-woven, it can’t be sorted in a recycling facility.
  • And don’t throw it into a recycling bin, Dreizen warns. “Contamination in the system is really costly and when you have a highly contaminated load of recycling, it has to be redirected to trash."

Q. Okay, but what about at-home testing kits?

  • Yes, there are definitely parts of at-home COVID-19 testing kits you can recycle, Dreizen says. She even has a step-by-step Twitter thread on how to recycle testing kits.
  • The box that tests come in and the paper instructions sheets are totally recyclable, she adds.
  • The hard plastic testing strip that comes with it? No dice. “That wouldn’t be recyclable since it’s made of a mix of materials. And it’s very small. So as a rule of thumb, nothing can be recycled if it’s smaller than two inches by two inches."

Q. How can D.C. residents jumpstart their recycling?

  • Zero Waste DC is a public-facing resource that explains what can and cannot be recycled, Dreizen says. Last year, D.C. even offered personalized feedback to more than 20,000 single-family households on how to improve their own recycling.
  • But the city can do more, she believes. “I think we do a good job, but not a fantastic job of communicating about recyclability to residents. And I always crave more specific information and explaining the 'why' behind things,” which is why she’s turned to Twitter and Instagram to give D.C. residents feedback on what to recycle in hopes of urging people to recycle in more meaningful and intentional ways.

Worthy of your time: Keep up with Dreizen on Twitter and Instagram for more recycling tips.

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