'Over 50 million face masks go to landfill each day and the litter is killing wildlife'
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Published: 25 November 2020
This Article was Written by: Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod
Keys, phone, face mask: this is the new routine during the Covid-19 pandemic, but what you do with your used face mask has unwanted consequences.
It’s impossible to miss the sheer volume of face masks that have been carelessly littered around our towns and cities, and these ‘face mask hypocrites’ have infuriated one major waste disposal company.
The UK-based waste disposal specialists at BusinessWaste.co.uk are calling for people to make the switch from disposable face masks to reusable ones in a bid to reduce this littering.
‘Animals are dying because they are getting tangled up in face masks that have been ignorantly thrown away, and somebody has to pick up your germy rubbish.
‘Over 50 million face masks are being thrown away each day.
‘We need to fight the virus and keep ourselves safe in a way that doesn’t end up killing the planet and animals with single-use waste.’
Single-use face masks
Wearing a face mask has become mandatory for the majority of us in the UK, as we are required to wear them on public transport, inside shops and now even while being seated in cafés and restaurants.
But with over half of the population opting to wear single-use masks instead of reusable ones, it’s estimated that over 1.6 billion non-biodegradable face masks are being sent to landfill in the UK monthly – and that figure is rising fast.
With so many throwaway masks being regularly used, it’s not surprising that many are not being disposed of correctly and are being dropped in streets up and down the country.
‘We’ve heard tales of masks being found along motorways, in nature reserves, and my friend told me he found one blowing around the top of Ben Nevis when he trekked to the summit a few weeks ago.
‘It’s disgusting, it’s dangerous, and it will destroy our planet and its wildlife.’
Animals and PPE
There have already been reports of animals being found tangled up in PPE; the RSPCA released pictures of a seagull rescued in Essex with its feet entangled in a face mask.
Steve Shipley in Yorkshire snapped a picture of a peregrine falcon struggling to detangle itself from a face mask, which could have been a tragedy as there are only about 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK.
‘Many of us have seen the sad images of sea creatures swimming surrounded by plastic and vowed to live sustainably, and now that we can see how face masks are threatening our wildlife we need to act quickly and change our habits.’
Choose to reuse
Earlier in the year, BusinessWaste.co.uk called for ‘pop-up PPE bins’ on high streets to reduce littering and ensure that contaminated masks and gloves were being correctly disposed of.
As PPE pollution has increased, the waste specialists are now also calling for people to make the switch from single-use to reusable as much as possible.
A single-use face mask will take over 20 years to break down in landfill, but even if it’s correctly disposed of it cannot be recycled as it is considered to be medical waste.
‘Even if you are disposing of your mask correctly as medical waste, it will need to be incinerated and the toxic fumes can contribute to climate change, so it’s best to avoid using them to begin with.’
Reusable face masks
Reusable fabric face masks are the most eco-friendly way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, as well as preventing an increase in single-use waste which is harmful to our planet.
Instead of being thrown away after a single wear, reusable masks can be washed after each use, either by chucking them in the washing machine or handwashing them with soap and water.
Plus buying a reusable face mask will save you a lot of money, as you will get more use out of one mask than to keep repurchasing disposable ones.
But if you do find yourself having to wear a single-use face mask, you can still make sure you are disposing of it in a way that is less harmful by cutting the elastic straps that animals get tangled in.
‘If you’re throwing away a face mask you have to treat like the plastic rings you get with beer cans, you need to cut anything an animal can get tangled up and eventually die in.
‘We all need to do our bit to clean up our streets and save our wildlife.’