Recycling Disposable Face Masks and Personal Protective Equipment

In response to the health measures put in place to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of masks and pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been ordered all over the world and as such, we are already seeing the harmful effect these items are having on the planet.

Single-use face masks and gloves are considered “non-recyclable” types of waste in the traditional recycling systems but TerraCycle® can collect and recycle them with the Zero Waste Box solution. 

For many years, TerraCycle® had offered Zero Waste Box to recycle PPE in limited quantities, mostly from industrial sources. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have revised our solution slightly, catering more specific solutions for these products which are increasingly part of daily life. We are developing a supply chain that can be adapted to a larger volume, given the circumstances, and have a variety of different boxes, including our latest box dedicated to the recycling of disposable face masks. 

We are able to do this by partnering with third-party processors who turn the waste into a reusable raw material. 

This spans five steps: 

1. Collection

The PPE, such as disposable face masks, visors, disposable gloves, ear plugs, beard snoods, hair nets, safety glasses or disposable garments (depending on the box purchased) are collected in the Zero Waste Box. Once full, the box must be sealed with adhesive tape and stored for 72 hours before using the prepaid courier pick up service to send it back to TerraCycle®.

If you or any of your staff are self-isolating, quarantined or suspect COVID-19 contamination of the PPE, please do not use your box to recycle the material and follow Government guidelines on how to dispose of such waste.

Medical waste: 

We can collect surgical-type masks as long as they don't come from a medical environment. However, as per legal guidelines, we cannot accept any medical waste, such as material contaminated with blood or bodily fluids and waste originating from healthcare facilities, hospitals, home care services, physicians' offices, dental offices, blood banks, veterinary clinics, research laboratories, etc. 

Also, we cannot accept fabric, homemade or paper face masks.

2. Check in

TerraCycle® records all materials upon receipt at its waste sorting centre in Lancashire. All PPE Zero Waste Boxes are quarantined on arrival for a minimum of 72 hours to protect the staff handling the waste. Then they are checked in and the contents are visually inspected for compliance against the accepted waste intended to be collected for these boxes. Compliant material is then consolidated into bulk format to be transported for processing.

3. Recycling

Firstly, sorting and shredding

We store and aggregate the waste until we have the necessary volumes for processing (several tonnes). 

  • The PPE is sorted into categories based on material characteristics (i.e. flexible or rigid) and material composition (HDPE, PP, PET, etc.). TerraCycle® utilizes a wide array of available sorting technologies including manual sortation, size separation, sink/float, optical, air density, gravity, magnetic, etc. 
  • Each category of waste is also shredded (destroying any branding or trademarks) and this facilitates the sortation process. 

The shredded PPE waste is sorted into different materials and sent to a processor. 

Secondly, transformation into a new recycled usable format 

For disposable face masks:

  • The metal is sent to a foundry.
  • The Polypropylene (PP) and elastane are separated. The PP is mixed with other recycled PP then regenerated together in the form of pellets. The elastane is either mixed with other recycled plastics or directly used as an additive in the production of PP pellets.

4. Creation 

The resulting recycled pellet material can be used by third-parties to manufacture a variety of new products including outdoor furniture, plastic shipping pallets, outdoor decking, watering cans, storage containers, bins, tubes for construction applications, etc. 

Recycling Certificates

We can provide recycling certificates upon request at the end of the calendar year, confirming volumes in kilograms and dates recorded at our waste sorting facility. If you wish to receive a recycling certificate at the end of the calendar year, please send an email to zerowasteboxes@terracycle.co.uk 


What safety measures are in place for the collection and recycling of PPE waste?

  • We don’t accept medical waste.
  • Your box should be fully sealed with adhesive tape and stored securely for 72 hours before requesting a collection.
  • We will quarantine any PPE waste coming into our facilities for a minimum of 72 hours for the safety of our operators. 

Are disposable face masks and other PPE recycled in the UK?

Once full, the boxes are shipped to our waste sorting centre based in Lancashire. Our current recycling processors are also based in the UK.

Why use Zero Waste Box?

Zero Waste Box is a turnkey and convenient solution which includes the storage, shipping and recycling of a waste stream that isn’t currently recycled through local councils or traditional recycling facilities.

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