Face masks are part of our new routines but how do we dispose of them safely? Image by Adobe Stock.
Masks have become a part of our everyday life and it doesn’t look like they will be going anywhere, anytime soon. Disposable masks are estimated to amount to 129 billion face masks used globally for every month of the COVID-19 pandemic – let that sink in for a minute. Now, think about where all of those masks are ending up if not disposed of correctly – if only 1 per cent of masks were disposed of incorrectly, that would mean that 10 million masks per month are discarded in our environment and if each mask weighs on average around 4 grams, that’s 40 thousand kilograms of plastic waste each month. Littering face masks onto streets, sidewalks and bush isn’t the only concern, people are also flushing facemasks down the toilet meaning they are ending up in our oceans and waterways.
Medical grade PPE that is used in hospitals and on the front line are disposed of by incineration at specialised facilities but for the rest of us who don’t have access to appropriate incineration facilities the best way to dispose of your used face mask currently is in the bin, which will then end up in landfill. Although experts have admitted that due to the sheer volume face masks produce, our infrastructure isn’t able to cope, therefore leading to face masks still making their way into nature and waterways, so the best way to combat this is to purchase a reusable mask.
However, if you do find yourself needing to dispose of a non-biodegradable single-use face mask you should follow these steps:
1 – Remove your mask carefully from your face while touching only the ear loops, be gentle so as to not disturb liquid and solid contaminants on the mask.
2 – Place your mask in a plastic bag – like a grocery shopping bag or a zip lock bag and secure the bag tightly.
3 – Place the plastic bag into the rubbish bin or waste disposal unit.
4 – Wash your hands immediately after disposing of your mask.
5 – Never put on a new face mask until you have properly washed your hands.
If you’re removing a reusable mask also be careful to only touch the ear loops or ties and secure the mask in a plastic bag until you can wash it.
Find out more about wearing face masks in New Zealand on the Ministry of Health’s website.