It has been warned that if our practices do not improve in the next four months, more than 1600 tons of disposable face masks might spend “hundreds of years” in Scottish landfill sites.
Environmentalists have joined forces to condemn a report by TradeWaste, a national recycling firm, which reveals that 20,000 tons of disposable face masks, 1620 of them in Scotland, will end up in landfill sites across the UK by March.
The inquiry has contributed to calls for changes to the regulations on disposable masks to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
“6.3 billion face masks is the amount the UK throws in the trash in just four months – if mask-wearing rules remain in place until 2021, it could be as many as 19.2 billion,” explains Charlotte Green of TradeWaste. “The numbers are absolutely staggering.”
As PPE waste rises, Scotland’s beaches are polluted with discarded face masks and gloves.
In Scotland, wearing face protection has been mandatory in the retail, hospitality and public transport sectors since October, unless there is a medical exception.
However, there are concerns in Scotland that hundreds of thousands of them may be rotting on our land for years, with many people using disposable face masks.
“We know how many people throw them away. There have been vast quantities found in Scottish seas. These things are working their way through the system,” explained Jonathan Ratcliffe of TradeWaste. If we think about using masks, we’re probably going to be using them for another year or so, and it’s only going to get worse with this epidemic.
“The more people that are out and about when the restrictions are lifted, the more consumption will increase,”The more individuals that are out and about when the restrictions are lifted, the more consumption will grow.
“Depending on the closure rules over Christmas, when suddenly everyone is out again, we really need to get our consumption in order.”
Since disposable face masks each weigh around 3.5 grams, TradeWaste curated the data by estimating how many face masks in the next four months will be thrown away.
The highest number of face masks are expected to be sent to the landfill in Glasgow, with 176 tons winding up in our dumps by March.
With 146 tons predicted, Edinburgh is not too far behind. It could be 24 tons and Dundee 44 in Inverness.
The biggest issue with disposable face masks, according to TradeWaste, is that they can not be easily recycled at present, since they are made from heated and compressed plastics.
The shocking figures come after last month’s big beach cleanup in Scotland found personal protective equipment (PPE) on almost a quarter of beaches.
Across Scotland, campaigners have now called for individuals to rid themselves of all disposable products.
Single-use masks have become a symbol of global plastic waste and it is clear that they cause tremendous environmental issues,” said Sarah Moyes, Friends of Earth Scotland’s Circular Economy and Plastics campaign manager. “Not only are these plastic masks littering our streets and beaches, but they remain in landfills across Scotland for hundreds of years before they are properly disposed of.
“If we’re serious about tackling the plastic crisis, we need to move away from all disposables, including masks, and instead switch to reusable products.”
Emma Leel, Zero Waste Scotland’s program manager for waste and fly-tipping prevention, said, “It is not possible to recycle used single-use face masks, so they need to go into the general waste garbage can.”
What to remember in selecting a face mask
It’s a win-win to opt for a reusable face guard, since it is healthier for both your pocket and the world. It is estimated that by converting from disposable to reusable face covers for everyday use, people will save about 180 pounds a year. It means less waste and less issues for local authorities if we can eliminate the need to pick up a disposable cover in supermarkets.
A campaign to resolve “the urgent need to protect our streets, coastlines, countryside and waterways from this type of pollution.” has been initiated by Zero Waste Scotland.
In order to encourage people to turn to reusable face covers, activists have teamed up with Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Marine Conservation Society.
After the row on the beach