The UK is binning an incredible 53,000,000 disposable face masks every single day, with reports that many face masks are ending up being carelessly discarded in the street ending up in streams and rivers.
“If you walk around any street now you will see disposable face masks being blown around with leaves in the gutter – they are the new cigarette butt – people are simply chucking them after use. We know that 53 million are being sent to landfill each day – but just how many end-up elsewhere is the very scary part”, says Charlotte Green from waste company TradeWaste.co.uk
Now that face mask wearing has become a standard part of lockdown life, their disposal is being highlighted as a major new environmental crisis, with masks being found in streams, rivers, and oceans – like the modern-day plastic bottle.
Disposable face masks are typically made from plastic in 3 layers:
- 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
The other issue with a disposable mask are the ear loops and metal piece used to grip the nose – often thrown with these in-tact they can become entangled around animals and wildlife, especially so when they end up in water courses.
A survey of 4,500 members of the UK public by waste company TradeWaste.co.uk found that the numbers of masks being discarded daily are truly staggering:
- 58.8 million face masks are being used daily in the UK currently (November)
- 10% are reused, 90% are discarded
- 53.3 million face masks are sent to landfill each day
- Globally we are use 129 billion face masks per month
The main problem is that they are specifically designed to be chucked away after each use. In a medical setting this is controlled, but out in our towns and cities this is not controlled, and generally masks are thrown in residential and street waste bins for landfill.
“We as a country need better disposal methods to cope with the huge numbers of disposable masks being thrown away - most cannot be recycled. If restrictions and mask use continue then this issue is going to get progressively worse – action needs to be taken today”, concludes Charlotte Green from waste company TradeWaste.co.uk