The amount of single use face masks that cannot be recycled in the UK will hit 6.3 billion in the 4 months to March weighing an incredible 20,000 tonnes – leading to claims that the laws on throw away masks need changing to prevent an environmental disaster.
“6.3 billion face masks is the amount the UK will throw in the bin in just 4 months – if the rules on mask wearing continue throughout 2021, this could top 19.2 billion – the numbers are absolutely mind blowing”, explains Charlotte Green from National recycling company TradeWaste.co.uk
The eyewatering number of non-recyclable single use face masks being thrown away in the UK:
- 53m a day are sent to landfill
- This is 742 million a week
- Or 1.6 billion a month
- So, 6.3 billion will be binned in the 4 months to March
- This will weigh 20,000 tonnes in total
- In one year, we will use 19.2 billion which weighs as much as 5 1/2 Eiffel Towers
The main problem with disposable face masks is that currently as they are formed from heated and pressed plastics, they cannot easily be recycled. So, the only place they can end up will be in the ground.
“When you put your face mask in the bin, it will most likely end up in landfill. However, it gets even worse if the face mask is either deliberately or accidentally dropped – they are blown around and end up in watercourses, rivers and eventually the ocean. This impact can have awful consequences if wildlife comes entangled in the fibres, or ear loops”, explains Green.
Disposable face masks are typically made from plastic in 3 layers with a metal strip and ear loops:
- Non-woven plastic fabric outer
- Melt-blown polymer filter such as polypropylene
- Non-woven plastic fabric inner
- Other – cotton ear loops and metal nose piece
What can we do to prevent environmental harm caused by disposable face masks?
The main thing to remember is that if we choose an alternative before buying a disposable mask then we have prevented the manufacture of that mask and therefore halted much of the potential environmental harm.
TradeWaste.co.uk recommends the following alternatives:
- Buy a washable face mask made from either recycled materials or washable cotton
- Use a paper facemask that can be recycled – these are becoming more widely available
- Use a recycling service which accepts disposable face masks made from plastic, such as dust masks, FFP2 (or so-called “N95”), FFP3 and surgical masks
“If you can use a mask where there are no parts to throw away, then you are doing your bit to prevent excess plastic from going to landfill, and in the worst case being blown into local rivers and streams. If you think in a year we will dump the equivalent of 5 1/2 Eiffel Towers in 3.5g face masks, you’ll see the scale of the problem we are facing at the moment”, concludes Charlotte Green from recycling company TradeWaste.co.uk