Coronavirus Reducing Pollution Reuse

How a reusable face covering helps cut down waste

31 AUG 20 | 5 minutes

Coronavirus is one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in our lifetimes and has meant a lot of changes to our daily lives. Even simple tasks such as popping to the shops require a little more thought. 

In Scotland it is mandatory to wear face coverings, covering the mouth and nose, in certain indoor public places, shops or when travelling on public transport to help protect us all from coronavirus. 

However, with the increased use of disposable single-use options, there has been a recent spike in associated litter.  The full long-term effects of single-use face coverings in terms of pollution, impacts on wildlife and our climate emergency are not yet known but conservationists are already warning that dealing with the aftermath of increases in plastic and single-use items during the pandemic may be felt for years to come. 

But there is a way we can help reduce the impact.

So how can we keep everyone safe and ensure we waste less?

Evidence suggests face coverings have particular value in crowded and less well-ventilated spaces, and where physical distancing of two metres is not possible. This means we are expected to follow current Scottish Government guidelines and wear a face covering if we can. 

However, opting for a reusable face covering which covers the mouth and nose rather than a single-use item, will still help protect communities from coronavirus but with less waste.

Shop-bought and homemade reusable face coverings, as well as other items such as snoods, can all be effectively used to slow the spread of the virus. Face coverings should be at least two layers and preferably three layers thick. This option also gives people more choice of what to wear and, helps us get the best out of our resources whilst helping lessen the impact on our environment in these difficult times and throw away much less waste.

A reusable face covering will help protect communities from coronavirus but with less waste.

Show your style

Reusable face coverings give us never-ending choice.  Why not show your style, add some pattern, brighten someone’s day a little with a splash of colour or a silly face design?  

Reusable face coverings can be as unique as you. There are lots of shop-bought or online options to help you add some flair but if you can’t find what you want there’s even the option to make your own. 

How a reusable face covering helps cut down waste

Making your own face covering

Reusable face coverings don’t need to be complicated and can include a simple piece of material worn in two, preferably three layers, but if you feel like getting crafty, why not make rather than buy. You can even get the whole family involved. 

While patterns are never-ending, The Scottish Government has provided guidance to ensure your face covering is keeping everyone safe:

-    Face coverings should be made of cloth or other textiles through which you can breathe;
-    Reusable face coverings should be two, preferably three, layers thick;
-    They should also fit comfortably but snuggly around your nose and mouth. 

If you want to get some extra reusable brownie points, why not reuse an old t-shirt, bandana or piece of cloth rather than buying new materials. Make sure to give everything a wash before you get your project started.

You don’t even need to be a skilled seamster to craft your own face covering. Details on how to make a completely no-sew reusable face covering can be found on the Scottish Government’s YouTube channel.

How a reusable face covering helps cut down waste

Keeping your face covering clean

Now that you’ve acquired a reusable face covering, repurposed an item you already own or crafted something yourself, it should now be your go-to accessory to look after and maintain like you would any favourite piece of clothing. 

The Scottish Government has provided guidance on how to keep your reusable face covering clean:

  • Ensure reusable face covering are washed at the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use;
  • Only hand wash your face covering if a washing machine is unavailable.  For hand washing, lather face coverings for at least 20 seconds using warm to hot water before drying, ideally in a dryer.  Iron face coverings on the cotton or linen setting to kill any remaining germs;
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before you apply or remove your face covering;
  • When removing your face covering, take it off using the ear loops or ties to avoid touching your face;
  • When temporarily storing your face covering, in a pocket or bag, keep it in a sealable washable bag or container and avoid putting it on surfaces due to the possibility of contamination.

Ensure reusable face covering are washed at the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use.

What to do with single-use items

Single-use face coverings and gloves can’t be recycled. 

If you’ve already purchased single-use items or have been supplied with these for work in a non-healthcare setting, it’s important to dispose of these safely and responsibly. 

Single-use face coverings worn in non-healthcare settings should be carefully placed in the general (black bag) waste bin after use and never dropped on the ground. Littering is a crime so do the right thing, save yourself a fine and do your bit to help slow the spread of coronavirus whilst respecting our communities, wildlife and countryside - only put them in the general waste bin after use. 

What if someone in my household is showing symptoms of coronavirus?

It is important that you dispose of single-use face coverings and gloves safely and responsibly.  

If you, or someone in your household, is showing symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus, you must take extra precautions before disposing of face coverings and gloves: 

  • Double bag personal waste items that have been in contact with the person (including face covering or gloves);
  • Store the waste safely for 72 hours (three days);
  • Put in the general (black bag) waste bin.

You can find full guidance on the public use of face coverings in the Scottish Government’s Phase 3 Staying Safe and Protecting Others guidance.

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