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New publication on single-use masks

The UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub has produced new analysis on The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy.

As pressure mounts on the UK government to define its lockdown exit strategy, the mandatory wearing of masks in public is likely to be considered. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that even basic face masks can be effective in reducing the spread of the virus, by reducing the range and volume of exhaled water droplets containing SARS-CoV-2.

Most 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 mask each day for a year, that would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste and create 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. If the government decides to require the wearing of face masks in public, it should mandate reusable masks and not single-use masks. This will preserve single-use mask supplies for front-line healthcare workers, and reduce the risks associated with the disposal of thousands of tonnes of contaminated plastic mask waste in the household waste stream. Additionally, the use of reusable masks by the general population would significantly reduce plastic waste and the climate change impact of this policy measure.

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