UCL East


Employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy

5 May 2020

Paola Lettieri, Director of UCL East and Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been working with the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub on understanding the environmental implications of wearing single-use face masks, should it be part of the UK Government's COVID-19 exit strategy.

Protective masks, normally used for surgery, are now in use to fight the Corona Virus SARS-nCov-19.

In a recently-published policy document, UCL's Plastic Waste Innovation Hub argues that, should the wearing of face masks become mandatory, the public should wear reusable, rather than single-use masks, owing to the environmental implications of wearing, and disposing of single-use face masks.

Most face masks available for sale are made from layers of plastics and are designed to be single-use. If every person in the UK used one single-use face mask each day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste, the report warns, and ten times more climate change impact than using reusable masks.

Evidence suggests that reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream.

Should wearing face masks become mandatory for the public as part of the UK Government's exit strategy, the report advises that an extensive public health campaign with clear instructions about how to wear, remove, and wash reusable masks will be needed.

Read more and download the briefing paper here