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Millions of outdated pandemic PPE ‘heading for the trash’

Huge quantities of masks, protective gear and hand sanitizer, which now pose a fire risk are all set for the scrapheap.

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By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Millions of pounds worth of out-of-date personal protective equipment (PPE) bought during the pandemic is now heading for the trash.

A waste and recycling company said it has been contacted by hospitals, GP surgeries, large companies and even the suppliers themselves, all of whom are looking to get rid of the gear safely.

Huge quantities of masks, protective gear and hand sanitizer, which now pose a fire risk are all set for the scrapheap as they pass their use-by date.

The company, Divert, said it had got requests to get rid of more than a quarter of a million masks, 900 huge pallets of hand sanitizer and large amounts of other gear such as aprons in the past week alone.

Mark Hall, from the firm, said the people in charge of manufacturing and distributing PPE ordered far too much of it and as it ages the only option left is to bin it all.

He said: “Some people might say it’s an enormous waste of public money but the truth is a little bit more complicated than that.

“This is happening up and down the whole country, and it’s mind-blowing.

"It’s all a matter of predicting risk.

“They planned for the worst, and thankfully the worst – another big outbreak - hasn’t happened.

"It can be used to protect people from other illnesses, and much of it was, but there is still far too much to use all of it.

"It could not be sent to a developing country because it would spread infection risk elsewhere."

waste recycling, reuse, garbage disposal, environment and ecology concept - close up of rubbish bag with trash or garbage at home
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

The last two winters saw significant spikes in confirmed Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

This year that has not materialized because 93 percent of eligible people in England have had at least one vaccine and vulnerable people are still taking precautions.

While there are significant numbers of cases the confirmed numbers are far lower than they were last year.

While PPE is still needed there is far less need for it than in the past and politicians would have come under even more fire if there had been a huge outbreak and no PPE was available.

Used face masks can be recycled but it is not a simple process.

That is especially true if they contain metal that helps them keep their shape and protect the user with a good air seal.

Metals, fibers and plastics that go into medical-quality masks can all be recycled, but it is labor intensive if you are faced with a quarter of a million of them.

hygiene and disinfection concept - close up of different hand sanitizers, liquid soap, face protective medical masks and paper tissues on table
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Hand sanitizer is more tricky to recycle.

The company’s advice to consumers is that small amounts of it are fine to flush down the drain and the bottles can then be recycled.

However, a pallet of the protective gel contains around 500 liters (110 gallons) of 70 percent of alcohol-based liquid.

It is a huge fire risk and far too hazardous to simply be thrown away.

Specialist treatments need to be used to convert ethyl and isopropyl alcohol into something less harmful.

In the case of hand sanitizer, it can be recovered safely into alcohol which can be used as fuel.

This also helps to mitigate the cost of disposal.

Hall said: “Nothing is entirely straightforward in the world of waste and recycling, and that’s because – quite rightly – you can’t just bury anything that looks a bit difficult to deal with.”

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