Dispose of face masks in an environmentally friendly way
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause chaos around the world, the question remains of how to ensure face mask disposal is environmentally friendly. As covid-19 waste (including masks, gloves and other PPE) increases, the issue becomes all the more prevalent.
In many Asian countries such as China and Japan, face masks have been commonplace for some time. However, since the pandemic, sales of disposable face coverings have boomed worldwide.
One UK-based company has come up with an innovative recycling method to tackle the environmental issue posed by a rise of single-use plastic masks and gloves. Reworked (www.reworked.com) has launched their campaign #ReclaimTheMask (https://www.reworked.com/2020/10/22/reclaimthemask-what-is-reclaim-the-mask-recycling/) to help raise awareness.
In the UK, wearing a mask is required when entering all shops, supermarkets, salons, places of worship and other indoor settings. In a growing number of workplaces, masks are also compulsory, most notably within hospitals and health service providers.
There is no doubt the rules are in place to protect us from the virus, but that protection comes at a price. The surge in usage contributes to a drastic increase in single-use plastic waste. Some have said the disposable face mask is the ‘new plastic bottle’. Estimates say globally we are using 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month. Despite reusable versions being available, the quality and regular washing of them cannot be certain, which means many companies opt-in for disposable masks for safety reasons.
The environmental cost of throwing away billions of single-use plastics every month is harrowing. The WWF says: “If only 1% of the world’s face masks are disposed of incorrectly, 10 million masks will still end up polluting fragile ecosystems every month. Considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams this would entail the dispersion of over 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature’.
How can you dispose of a mask safely?
Last April, the UK government issued guidance on how to dispose of covid waste safely. They advised PPE should be thrown out with the household waste, in a rubbish bag, sealed with a second rubbish bag. The outside bag should be secured tightly and kept away from other people’s waste.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) advised on masks specifically: advising removal from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; wash hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) advise used items ‘cannot be recycled’ in your standard home, or workplace recycling bins. They also state that anyone with symptoms should store their waste for 72 hours before putting it in communal areas or bins.
Is environmentally friendly face mask disposal possible?
As reports of disposable masks found in the environment increase, many organisations are looking for a way to ensure face mask disposal can be done in an eco-friendly way. ReWorked (www.reworked.com) director, Steve Carrie says: “The statistics we’ve seen on the environmental impact of face masks have scared us into action! We have developed and experimented with innovative recycling methods to find a way to utilise a range of ‘hard to recycle’ plastics, including disposable face masks, plastic gloves and other covid PPE”.
ReWorked has launched a campaign in light of the pandemic, aptly titled #ReclaimTheMask (https://www.reworked.com/2020/10/22/reclaimthemask-what-is-reclaim-the-mask-recycling/) – with the aim to collaborate with businesses who use large amounts of PPE, on setting up a full-service recycling system. Companies can purchase a Covid-waste, PPE bin made from 100% recycled plastic board supplied to collect all masks and gloves. ReWorked will then organise regular waste pick-up, where the single-use plastics will be safely processed and contribute to making more boards, bins and other repurposed products.
The process involves the collection of materials via their waste box that contains a 97% Recycled LDPE liner; this allows for double containment. Once collected the boxes are held for a minimum 72hr COVID quarantine period. Once inspected, the bag liners are removed and the contents pre-shredded. The box is recycled to a new packaging media, and the liner sent for processing back into their next batch of bags. The Facemask and PPE material, once shredded, is sent to a blending area where it is combined with a mixture of polymers from ocean cleans, verge cleans, food and cosmetic wastes. Lastly, the materials are bonded into a board at high temperature (230 degrees C) the board can then be placed back into use or made into a new product on site.
How can you help Reclaim The Mask?
Individuals sharing the message is more valuable than ever! Many people are not aware that disposable mask recycling is even possible. So please spread the message, use the #ReclaimTheMask hashtag and share our content as much as possible. If you spot a discarded mask share that too. Find our content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn - @ReWorkedGB
If you are a business (or key player) – get a sanitiser and PPE bin from us – made from 100% recycled waste plastics. We will arrange regular waste pick-ups, and you can sleep soundly, knowing every last mask will be made into something new. Taking responsibility environmentally as a business has growing importance to your customers – showing you’re considering your impact not only helps the planet but also shows your company values. As a brand, we also recommend sponsoring a bin; it is a simple way to help the cause and serves as a brilliant promotional tool.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For individuals who are not required to change masks regularly, the most eco-friendly option is a reusable mask. Machine washable masks are widely available online and are ideal for minimising the environmental impact. Health experts recommend having more than one mask and washing reusable masks after each use.
We want as many people as possible to know about our innovative methods that make environmentally friendly face mask disposal possible. So please share the message, use the hashtag #ReclaimTheMask
Image courtesy of Piqsels
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