How to safely and responsibly dispose of protective masks?

As face protection masks play a key role in security against the coronavirus and have become one of the elements most associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. In Brazil, they weren’t that popular and, in a matter of weeks, they became a mass production item used by thousands of Brazilians and found in different shapes, colors and stores.

A new problem arose with the protagonism of masks in the daily life of the pandemic: the discard of these protective products. In addition to choosing the most suitable masks for the defense of the virus, it is also important that the population understand how the correct disposal should be done, considering the impacts associated with the environment.

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Protective masks: how to discard?

The World Health Organization (WHO), as well as mask producers and the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (ABES), advises consumers to discard protective items as follows:

  • Insert the mask(s) in two plastic bags (one inside the other) and write with a pen or on a sticker that the contents are contaminated material/used masks;
  • Then, discard in the organic waste bin or in the “bathroom” bin.

These guidelines prevent anyone from getting contaminated with the masks, whether in household collection environments or in landfills. Another possible route is to keep contaminated items, including masks, in “quarantine” before proceeding with disposal.

It is noteworthy that specifically fabric masks represent a greater environmental impact, as some fabrics can take up to 400 years to decompose in nature. The most suitable solution would be fabric recycling, an expensive and inaccessible process; alternatively, you can follow the orientation of the two plastic bags or reuse the “cloth” masks for other household functions.

If we consider that a fabric mask can be washed up to 30 times and that each Brazilian has five such masks, more than 12.7 billion would be discarded in the country in just one year. Together, these discarded masks would equal the weight of nearly eight thousand buses and would be enough to fill nine thousand apartments measuring 50m².

Disposal of masks: use outside the home

There are also other precautions when using masks in public environments. On the street, the best thing to do is keep an unused mask and discard it only when you get home. It is important to avoid the disposal of masks in street dumps, preventing the contamination of solid waste collectors, and in recycling dumps.

And disposal should never be done directly on the street, as the masks can end up in rivers and oceans, harming the seas and animals, or clogging manholes. 129 billion masks are discarded monthly worldwide, according to June 2020 study of the American Chemical Society. This indicates the importance of correctly disposing of these everyday items, thinking not only about people, but also about environmental preservation.

With information from Uol and NeoEnergia

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