British Columbia

Metro Vancouver residents tossed half a billion pieces of PPE in landfill in 2020: report

Metro Vancouver's 2020 waste composition study shows more than 100 million masks and almost 50 million wipes hit waste bins during the pandemic year.

Report shows more than 100 million masks and almost 50 million wipes hit waste bins during the pandemic year

Masks in garbage.
Metro Vancouver residents threw 528 million pieces of PPE out in 2020, according to a new report. This included 109 million masks, 48 million wipes and 371 million gloves. (Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press)

A new report shows how the pandemic has had a profound impact on the trash Metro Vancouver residents tossed in 2020.

The report by the region's Zero Waste Committee reveals some perhaps not-so-surprising trends from the past year, primarily when it comes to the disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Metro Vancouver residents threw out 528 million pieces of PPE out in 2020, including 109 million masks, 48 million wipes and 371 million gloves, according to the report tabled Friday.

Terry Fulton, senior project engineer with Metro Vancouver, said while these are large numbers to consider, it is better to have these products in landfills rather than litter the streets.

"We recognize these items are really important for helping reduce the spread of the [corona]virus," said Fulton, speaking Friday morning on CBC's The Early Edition.

"But if you have to dispose of that, make sure it doesn't end up on the ground. Bag it and put it in the garbage."

Fulton encouraged people to wear reusable PPE if they feel comfortable doing so, as most disposable masks are made of many materials and cannot be recycled.

"If every resident were to dispose of four pieces of personal protective equipment per week, that would add up quite quickly to get to that 528 million," said Fulton.

Total waste down 4%

While the magnitude of the PPE waste may sound like it is overwhelming the system, Fulton said it only accounts for 0.5 per cent of total waste.

The total amount of waste in 2020 was actually down by four per cent, something Fulton says was largely driven by a reduction in commercial waste likely due to public health measures that reduced business capacity and kept many workers home.

A discarded plastic glove on the ground in North Vancouver, B.C., on May 26, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

However, there was an uptick in residential garbage, which included not just an increase in PPE waste but also in take-out containers, as people appear to have ordered in more during the pandemic.

"But we are seeing some encouraging signs in different businesses looking to come up with reusable models," said Fulton.

As people continue to protect themselves from COVID-19 with PPE, Fulton hopes everyone will see to it their trash makes it to the landfill, not just the land.

"We're really encouraging residents to put them in the bin and not put them in the environment," he said.

LISTEN | Terry Fulton, senior project engineer with Metro Vancouver, on CBC's The Early Edition:


  • A previous version of this story said the PPE waste in Metro Vancouver represents five per cent of total waste in the region. In fact, it's 0.5 per cent.
    Mar 17, 2021 1:01 PM PT

With files from The Early Edition