Here's how a Las Vegas hotel is recycling all those disposable face masks it's handing out

Melissa Yeager, Arizona Republic
·4 mins read

When the Venetian Resort on the Las Vegas Strip reopened in June, it made face masks easily accessible. It placed amenity kits with disposable masks in rooms daily. It offered masks at doors around the property. Employees receive fresh masks at the start of their shifts.

But over the past six weeks, that has resulted in a lot of discarded masks. So far, 644 pounds of single-use masks would have gone to the landfill unless the resort could figure out a different solution.

"We took it up as a challenge and we wanted to find a means to dispose of the masks in a sustainable manner," said Pranav Jampani, executive director of sustainability for the Venetian Resort Las Vegas.

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Can disposable face masks be recycled?

Jampani's team contacted several recycling companies but it was difficult to find a place that would take them. Single-use masks are not easily recycled. Along with the health implications, the masks are made up of multiple materials. This makes them hard to recycle.

After calls to several vendors, the Venetian finally found one up to the task. The hotel is partnering with TerraCycle to pilot one of the first large-scale personal protective equipment recycling programs in the hospitality industry.

"Traditionally, masks cannot go in the bin. They are not municipally recyclable. And that really goes for any type of PPE or safety equipment," said Dylan Layfield, senior manager of material solutions for TerraCycle.

The masks collected at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas will be recycled to make shipping pallets, composite decking and composite lumber.
The masks collected at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas will be recycled to make shipping pallets, composite decking and composite lumber.

TerraCycle specializes in recycling materials that aren't accepted in traditional curbside recycling programs. Two years ago, Layfield said, the company started recycling masks and other personal protective equipment. The new coronavirus pandemic has made that service more in demand.

"We've got a lot more inquiries from both consumers and businesses who want to see this material recycled," Layfield said. "A lot of businesses are seeing these not only get thrown away but littered and tossed on the ground."

In the past, TerraCycle's typical customers were businesses that ordered the "zero waste box" to collect personal protective equipment from their employees. When the company returns the box to TerraCycle, Layfield said, the company shreds the masks and personal protective equipment into a crumb-like material which is used to form products such as shipping pallets, composite decking and composite lumber.

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How the Venetian's mask-recycling program works

This is the first time TerraCycle has worked with a partner to collect personal protective equipment on a scale this large. It involves picking up and transporting the masks in bales of 500-800 pounds.

It's also a new challenge for the Venetian, which has almost 20 million square feet of campus. Establishing a process for recycling the masks took a bit of planning.

"We brainstormed different ways to collect and separate the masks in our properties so that we will be able to capture as many as possible with the least contamination," said Jampani.

A staff member at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas moves bundled masks which will be recycled to make shipping pallets, composite decking and composite lumber.
A staff member at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas moves bundled masks which will be recycled to make shipping pallets, composite decking and composite lumber.

Collection boxes have been placed throughout the resort and at the exits staff members use when they leave for the day.

Employees who work the recycling dock, who already are responsible for sorting the Venetian's trash to ensure that the resort recycles as much as possible, are a second line of defense. Wearing protective gear, they sort out masks along with other recyclables to keep those from ending up in the landfill.

Both companies hope this program will help balance the need to protect public health with sustainability.

"Any time you can not use a product it's better. COVID has definitely made that a little bit more difficult," Layfield said. "Our business is to be there to collect these materials that people are going to have to use that are otherwise going to be discarded into a landfill or incineration."

You can connect with Arizona Republic Consumer Travel Reporter Melissa Yeager through email at melissa.yeager@azcentral.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Can face masks be recycled? Venetian Las Vegas Resort is trying