A new scheme launching in Wilko stores lets you drop off your disposable face masks for recycling.
Collection bins are being set up in 150 Wilko stores across England for dropping off used disposable face masks.
Jerome Saint-Marc, chief executive at Wilko, said: ‘We’re thrilled to partner with ReWorked to be the first on the high street to take positive action, recycling discarded face masks on behalf of our customers.’
How the scheme works
Once collected, ReWorked shreds the masks (after a 72-hour quarantine period) along with other plastic waste. This is then melted down and pressed into durable boards which can be used to make building materials and public furniture.
This scheme should make life easier for those who need to use disposable masks and help to address the impact of plastic waste caused by massively increased PPE use during the pandemic.
Reusable face coverings are a good alternative, but some more vulnerable groups may still require single-use masks. Until now they were near-impossible to recycle, as masks can’t go in your home recycling bin, despite what some mask retailers have claimed in the past.
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Can you recycle disposable face masks anywhere else?
Wilko is the first high street shop to introduce such a scheme, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
TerraCycle, another specialist waste company, is selling PPE drop-off recycling bins aimed at commercial use, to be placed in public areas such as shops and offices.
Its Zero Waste PPE boxes can be used for single-use face masks, rubber gloves, or both. The waste is then collected and melted down into pellets, which – similar to Wilko’s scheme – can then be used to make things such as construction materials, shipping pallets, bins and outdoor furniture.
Don’t put masks in your home recycling
If you can’t drop off your disposable face masks at a specialist bin, the advice is still to dispose of them in your black bag waste.
Most councils don’t collect flexible plastics or plastic films at kerbside, and the combination of materials used to make disposable face masks means they’re even more difficult to recycle via the normal routes.
Used face masks may also be contaminated waste, so it’s doubly important that they’re recycled safely through dedicated schemes.
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Do you need a disposable face mask?
A high-quality and well-fitting reusable mask is likely to be sufficient for most people, most of the time.
Our face mask tests uncovered reusable masks with the ability to filter more than 99% of bacteria-sized particles – around the same level as disposable blue surgical-style masks.
The difference is that disposable medical style masks have to conform to these high filtration standards, whereas reusable masks can vary in how effective they are and filtration efficiency can be affected by washing.
It’s worth bearing in mind that neither can claim to protect you from Covid as they don’t fit tightly to the face.
If you’re at higher risk or you want that extra reassurance in certain situations – for example, if you will be in an enclosed public space for a longer period of time – you might consider layering up with a disposable mask.
Some experts advocated double masking, where you use a disposable mask as the inner layer and put a reusable one on top – the disposable mask essentially creates a filter layer.
Reusable masks with disposable filters are a good option, too, as these were the type that performed best in our filtration tests and may be more environmentally friendly than using single-use products.
Find out more about disposable face masks and what to think about before you buy.