When your disposable face mask is done, dump it in a trash bin.
Take Pride Winnipeg is plugging that public message as used face masks become prominent litter around the city.
"I’ve seen an increase, definitely, in the last little bit, of masks and disposable gloves, in a lot of parking lots and on some streets," said Tom Ethans, executive director. "We picked up 10 masks the other day in a block in the downtown area."
Take Pride Winnipeg, a registered charity, supports litter cleanups and other city beautification efforts.
The group doesn’t have an exact count of how many improperly discarded facial coverings it’s found so far, but Ethans believes the increase has been dramatic over the past few weeks.
While encouraged Winnipeggers appear to be following a provincial health orders to wear masks in all indoor public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Ethans said he’s concerned some are also failing to properly dispose of them.
This type of litter, which could be contaminated by bodily fluids, requires careful removal by Take Pride volunteers.
"They’re using litter-pickers and they have gloves on… but it’s still a concern. It’s the same when we go out and (find used) needles. You’ve got to be very careful and cognizant of picking up these things," Ethans said.
Single-use masks are also increasingly dropped into recycle bins, creating additional problems, the City of Winnipeg said..
The non-recyclable masks have often been found mixed in with recyclable materials, especially since the city and many local businesses began mandating mask use in August, said Mark Kinsley, Winnipeg supervisor of waste diversion.
"We definitely noticed… that there’s been a significant increase," said Kinsley, noting it creates a source of recycling contamination, which can contain a person’s respiratory droplets.
"You can imagine just the psyche of the employees that are physically coming in contact with this material. They’ve got their (personal protective equipment), but at the same time, if we can limit their exposure… it is just better overall."
The elastic on masks can also become caught in processing equipment, while mask parts can enter a finished recycled product and reduce its value. Those problems could create costs or revenue losses for the city and its taxpayers, said Kinsley.
Winnipeggers should use reusable masks as much as possible — and promptly chuck one-use options in garbage bins only, he said.
"They all need to go into the garbage."
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.