Coronavirus Reducing Pollution Reuse

Reuse beats single-use

09 NOV 20 | 5 minute read

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 now, as we must remember to bring a face covering along with keys, wallet and phone. 

Face It: Reuse Beats Single-Use

In Scotland it’s mandatory to wear face coverings in most indoor places: shops, public transport and transport hubs such as railway and bus stations and airports.  Face coverings must also be worn by many school pupils and parents on the school run. 

One third of Scots currently wear single-use disposable face coverings. These usually contain plastics, and sadly there’s evidence of them increasingly being littered.  One littered face covering can last decades in our environment

The widespread use of face coverings has led to a spike in associated litter, seeing them become the latest pollutant to our coast, countryside, cities, towns and waterways.   A recent study by the Marine Conservation Society reported Covid-related litter from face coverings or gloves found on nearly a quarter of Scottish of beaches.   Keep Scotland Beautiful has also reported finding an increase in Covid-related litter during its litter picks. 

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So how can we protect our health and our planet?

Evidence suggests face coverings have value in protecting public health, in crowded and less well-ventilated spaces, and where physical distancing of two metres is not possible.

However, opting for a reusable face covering will also help protect our environment. 

Shop-bought and homemade reusable face coverings, as well as other items such as snoods and buffs, 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.

As well as protecting your health and our planet, reusable face coverings make sense for your pocket.  It is estimated that people could save around  £180 per year by switching to reusable face coverings from single-use for daily use.

seal in water

The full long-term effects of littered single-use masks and their impacts on wildlife and the 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.

The good news is it’s in our power to take action to help prevent these harmful consequences.

There are five simple ways we can all reduce our impact:

  1. Choose a reusable face covering. Remember to wash it after every use.

  2. Carry a spare  - so if something goes wrong with the one you’re wearing you don’t need to use or buy a single-use disposable covering.

  3. If you do need to use a disposable covering, put it straight into a general waste bin after one use.

  4. Never put single-use face coverings in the recycling – they can’t be recycled.

  5. Whatever you do, don’t litter any face covering.

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.

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 reuse 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.  These patterns templates will help you get started

female wearing face covering

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 coverings are washed at the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use;
  • Only handwash your face covering if a washing machine is unavailable.  For handwashing, 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 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.

face covering littered in leaves

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.

Main header image of face covering on the beach: Tara Proud, Marine Conservation Society.

Image of face covering in autumn leaves: Catherine Gemmell, Marine Conservation Society.

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