Lots of people have the opinion that wearing a face mask actually does more damage to your health than the risks of not wearing one during the current climate. The opinions on the science behind mask wearing is apparently questionable but regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on, one thing for sure is that disposable masks are blighting the environment and are becoming a big recycling issue on a global scale.
The current global pandemic situation has had huge effects on daily life across the planet. No country has been untouched by the changes people have had to go through in the last 18 months. Lockdowns, social distancing and mask wearing has become the normal thing for billions of people on a daily basis.
In March 2020 the entire world pretty much ground to a halt, almost all airplanes in the entire world were grounded, airports and all transport hubs were shut down, buses, cars, trains the lot. Nothing moved in or out of anywhere for a long time. The world had never experienced a total stop before, it was unprecedented.
During in this global lockdown, some environmental experts were quick to point out the benefits it had on the environment of our planet from an air quality point of view.
An obvious line of thought was that the dramatic but unsustainable decrease in transport or travel around the world meant less pollution in the air, which must make sense from that point of view. The negatives to people’s lives brought on from this situation will be apparent long into the future for decades to come and cause more harm than pollution.
The mandating of mask wearing in many countries has had a huge detrimental effect on the environment from a waste generation perspective. It’s estimated that we are throwing away over 90 million disposable masks per week, which equates to over 370 million a month which are potentially being binned. The majority of these masks will find their way to a landfill site through general waste streams but there are lots just being discarded in the street as litter and even finding their way into our rivers and oceans.
Recycling Face Masks
Most people probably think the blue surgical type face covering or mask is made from paper products but in fact it’s not, to be able to stop the transmission of fluid through the mask its actually made up from plastic micro fibres, these plastics do not generally decompose and are not good for the environment. Just like many plastics the only environmentally way to deal with it is through re- use or recycling.
As with other recycling problems the world has faced, there are companies out there looking to innovate a solution to the problem and fortunately this is already taking place in the UK.
UK homewares retailer Wilko has initiated a collection scheme in its many stores throughout the UK. Cardboard collection boxes are sited within the stores where customers can drop in their used face masks for recycling. These boxes will be clearly identifiable as a face mask recycling box and are similar to boxes already used instore for things like dead batteries.
There is obviously a risk to collecting face masks or any kind of clinical waste, which is why each box is sealed when full and stored for a minimum of 72 hours before collection. This type recycling program is for general wear face masks that have been worn by people as a precaution, anyone who is experiencing any type of symptoms should dispose of their masks in the general waste bin.
Once collected the used masks will be introduced to other plastic fibre waste streams where they will be shredded safely and then melted down to be reused to make building materials and other plastic products.
Its hopeful that many other countries will eventually create a recycling scheme for this type of waste everywhere.
So, if you are wearing a mask just think where and how you deal with it once you have used it. More and more collection points will be appearing in shops and outlets in your local area so keep an eye for them and remember every mask you put in these special collection boxes is one less mask and much less plastic in our landfill sites.