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The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy

UCL's Plastic Waste Innovation Hub has today released a policy document that sets out the environmental implications of wearing single-use face masks, should the UK Government mandate that the public wears face masks in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In it, the Plastics Hub argues that, should the wearing of face masks become mandatory, the public should wear reusable, rather than single-use masks, owing to the environmental implications of wearing, and disposing of single-use face masks.

Most face masks available for sale are made from layers of plastics and are designed to be single-use. If every person in the UK used one single-use face mask each day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste, the report warns, and ten times more climate change impact than using reusable masks.

Evidence suggests that reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream.

Should wearing face masks become mandatory for the public as part of the UK Government's exit strategy, the report advises that an extensive public health campaign with clear instructions about how to wear, remove, and wash reusable masks will be needed.