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Reusable face coverings can help stamp out litter caused by the coronavirus pandemic

02 December 2021

We've joined forces with Zero Waste Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society to renew calls for people to choose reusable face coverings, after research found that if every Scot used one single-use mask every day for a month, it would create 875 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste – the same weight as Glasgow’s Titan Crane1.

The Face It: Reuse Beats Single-Use campaign returns as our surveys discovered two face masks are found littered per one kilometre across Scotland, and new data from the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean found Covid-related litter on a third (33 percent) of surveyed Scottish beaches2.

Now, with the festive season approaching - when more people are expected to be out-and-about seeing friends and loved ones, eating out, or going to events where face coverings will be required – the environmental bodies have joined forces again to urge people to ‘choose to reuse’, wherever possible, to mitigate waste and protect our beautiful landscapes.

Wearing a face covering or mask helps to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and reusable face coverings are the most environmentally friendly option. They help us protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet, by reducing the amount of single-use plastic waste being created. But, currently, over a third (37 percent) of Scots use a disposable face covering which cannot be recycled - these should always be placed in the general waste bin after use3.

Our CEO Barry Fisher, said:  “Our surveys across Scotland have recorded more than two facemasks per one kilometre which is completely unacceptable. This Covid litter highlights our complete disregard for each other and our communities. It is vital that people bin their litter and wear a reusable face mask when possible. By choosing to reuse, you are reducing your consumption, decreasing the chance of contributing to our looming litter emergency and you are helping to tackle climate change – it is a triple win for our environment.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that we are now getting used to living a slightly different way of life. One of these changes is the continued use of protective gear, specifically face coverings. It’s easy to carry a reusable face covering and using them regularly will save you money in the long run. One small act can help protect Scotland’s pristine landscapes.

“The littering of single-use face coverings represents our throwaway society fuelled by our current mode of consumption. By shopping smarter, reusing more, and wasting less, we can help protect the environment. Be safe and sustainable when you’re out and about this Christmas by investing in a good quality, reusable face covering and making them part of your daily routine. That way you’ll be protecting yourself, your community, and the planet.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said:  “Almost all the litter our volunteers find on beach cleans demonstrates the damaging throwaway culture we’re currently living in.

“The increase in COVID-related litter on Scottish beaches is of real concern for the environment, and wildlife. We can all play our part in stopping this sort of litter reaching the beach in the first place. If you can choose to use reusables, please do so, and if you use single-use please dispose of it responsibly. Next year, we’d like to see this type of litter declining instead of rising. Our ocean was struggling as it was, we can't afford to make the situation worse.”

Reusable face coverings should be washed on the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use. 

Shop-bought and homemade reusable face coverings, as well as other items (such as snoods), can all be effectively used to slow the spread of the virus. These should be at least two (preferably three) layers thick and tight to the face.

Reducing the demand for single-use face coverings is one way to tackle the problem of consumption, after it was found that around four-fifths (80 percent) of Scotland’s footprint comes from the products and materials we manufacture, use and throw away. Zero Waste Scotland is encouraging Scots to reduce their consumption where possible. In a circular economy, existing materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and nothing is wasted.

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