As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, the demand for disposable face masks is still as high as ever. Hospitals, crisis centers, and other healthcare facilities are burning through their supplies day-by-day to protect front liners from the unrelenting virus. Similarly, the general public has not stopped using disposable masks to protect themselves--and others--even as the rate of vaccinations goes up.
While masks are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19, they pose a huge problem for the environment. As the name suggests, disposable masks are meant to be thrown out after each use. And with billions of people around the globe throwing out their masks daily, we must consider the most eco-friendly approach to disposing of face masks.
That said, are disposable face masks recyclable? And what other ways can we stay protected from COVID-19 while minimizing our carbon footprint? Today, we will answer these questions and more, so keep on reading!
What Are Disposable Face Masks Made Of?
Disposable face masks are made from non-woven fabric, commonly polypropylene, which has superior bacteria filtration and air permeability than a woven cloth. Most face masks consist of three layers:
A liquid-resistant outer layer, a middle layer that provides the most filtration, and an inner layer that absorbs exhalation. Masks that offer better protection, such as N95s, will have more than three layers for additional filtration.
If you want to learn more about the different types of N95 masks, be sure to check out our previous article on the topic!
So, Are Disposable Face Masks Recyclable?
Now, let's get into the main topic today - are disposable face masks recyclable?
Yes, you can recycle disposable face masks. But it is not that easy.
Non-woven face masks are plastic-based. At the global level, only 8.7% of plastics are recycled while the rest stays in landfills or ends up in our oceans. This infers that most of the plastic-based disposable PPE we throw out is likely going not going to be recycled.
Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises against disposing of used masks in curbside recycling bins. Masks and other PPE should be thrown directly in the trash instead.
However, some companies have taken the initiative to help curve the problem around disposable PPE. One such company is TerraCycle, a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle materials, including disposable face masks. They offer a Zero Waste Box as an alternative to throwing out used PPE in the trash can. When the box is full, people can send it back and TerraCycle recycles the material into durable products.
So, yes, you can recycle disposable face masks. But just like any other type of plastic-based product, most of the face masks we throw out are likely going to end up in the landfill--or worse, in the ocean.
Practical Tips to Reduce Your Environmental Impact While Using Face Masks
We cannot stop using face masks just yet, but you can start minimizing your carbon footprint while still staying protected from COVID-19. Here are some of the best tips to reduce your environmental impact while using face masks:
Switch to Reusable Masks When Not In High Contamination Areas
Doctors, dentists, and many other working professionals need to stick with disposable face masks. This is because you must frequently change out your mask to keep yourself - and others - safe.
However, when just taking trips to the grocery store or heading into town for dinner, consider using reusable face masks.
Reusable masks are a less wasteful alternative to disposable surgical masks. To reuse cloth masks, you simply have to wash and dry them after every use. However, cloth masks do not offer enough protection against the newest variants of COVID-19, which are even more transmissible than the previous variants from last year. This is because reusable masks cannot filter smaller aerosols as effectively as surgical masks or N95s.
Nevertheless, you can use reusable cloth masks when double-masking. When wearing a surgical mask, use a cloth mask to tighten the gaps around it. Doing so helps reduce the number of surgical masks you throw out as opposed to using two disposable masks to double-mask.
Get a Zero Waste Box
Instead of throwing used masks, gloves, and other types of PPE in the trash, send them to TerraCycle where they will undergo processing to become other useful objects. Aside from reducing the amount of disposable PPE you contribute to the landfill, you're also doing your part in helping protect sanitation personnel from biological hazards.
Reuse Masks When You Can
Yes, you can reuse disposable face masks, but only if you follow these rules:
Wash your hands before touching your face, remove your mask while holding the straps, and store your mask somewhere safe where it can "air out" for 24 to 48 hours. If the mask is visibly dirty or torn, you need to throw it out.
Final Thoughts On Whether Or Not Disposable Face Masks Are Recyclable
Well, there you have it. While disposable face masks are recyclable, that doesn't mean doing so is easy. Fortunately, you now know what it takes to reduce your carbon footprint while keeping yourself and others safe.
Whether you're a front liner in healthcare or simply want to have enough protection in the "new normal", you need personal protective equipment that passes quality standards with flying colors. Here at Primo Dental, we have every kind of PPE you need to protect yourself from biological and chemical hazards alike. From nitrile gloves to masks made in the USA, our catalog has exactly what you're looking for.
Don't skimp on proper protection. Shop at Primo Dental today - the best PPE online store. enjoy free shipping for every order above $50!