Since COVID-19, in the UK face masks are required to be worn in shops, whilst using public transport, at the hospital and in the workplace.

woman wearing surgical face mask

Face masks help keep us safe from COVID-19. Research shows that COVID-19 is spread directly by exposure to droplets from sneezes, coughs and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up by touch from surfaces and touching the face. Along with keeping your hands clean, avoiding touching your face and limiting contact with others, it has been proven that face masks help reduce exposure to these droplets and reduce the risk of potentially infecting others.

Researchers agree that medical-grade masks keep us safer than reusable cloth masks. This is because in the UK, cloth masks do not follow any guidelines or safety standards. This means they can vary in how protective they are and that you cannot be sure they keep you safe. When it comes to reusable masks, it is recommended to wear a three-layered cloth mask. How you wear your mask is also important. You can learn more about our COVID-19 safety guidelines here. In terms of safety, FFP3 and FFP2/N95 masks are known to be better. However, most of us have access to surgical single-use masks or cloth masks.

Environmental consequences – A price for safety?

surgical face mask discarded in dirt
According to UN estimates, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.

Due to the pandemic, we have seen a drastic increase of single use plastic in the world. Indeed, single use masks are now everywhere. In the UK, it is estimated that 53 million face masks are thrown away each day. Indeed a costly price to pay for the planet with very grim consequences. While eco-friendly alternatives are available with for example the French company Geochanvre which created masks made from hemp, there are also ways in which you can dispose of your mask safely and recycle it.

How to recycle single use masks

If you must wear a surgical single use mask, there are options for you to recycle them. For instance, for the purpose of reducing its carbon footprint, Wilko has joined The UK Plastics Pact, which focuses solely on reducing the use of single use plastic. It is the first major company in the UK to take this initiative, giving its customers the opportunity to recycle their masks; masks will be collected then quarantined for a 72 hour period. They will then be washed and shredded into raw material before finally being transformed into building materials, furniture and more.

If you are a company or business, you too can join the scheme and sign up for PPE recycling points. This initiative is launched by Reworked, a UK based company. Use the hashtag #ReclaimTheMask and help make a difference while raising awareness about environmental issues!