Stop the stream of face covering litter and ‘choose to reuse’

Tackling the dire effects caused by single-use face covering litter in the environment.

We have joined forces with Zero Waste Scotland and Marine Conservation Society to raise awareness of the issue and promote the benefits of reusable face coverings, with the aim of reducing the impact of this latest pollutant to our streets, coast, countryside and waterways. 

Single-use face coverings cannot be recycled and should be placed in the general waste bin after use. In recent months used disposable masks have been increasingly found contaminating local authority recycling collections across Scotland. 

As well as protecting the environment, choosing reusable face coverings makes sense for your pocket. It is estimated that people could save around £180 per year* by switching to reusable face coverings from single-use for daily use. 

With around 30% of Scots estimated to be using single-use masks, Zero Waste Scotland’s chief executive Iain Gulland is urging people to get into a routine with reusable face coverings to avoid being caught short when they are out and about. 

He said: “Even though it is a criminal offence that can result in a fixed penalty of up to £80, we have seen a huge rise in face covering litter in recent months.  This litter can last for decades in the environment and puts many wildlife species at risk of injury, or worse. We’ve already seen this happening across Scotland with marine life ingesting face coverings and birds becoming entangled in the strings. 

“It is vital that more people make the switch to reusable face coverings and it becomes a daily habit to take it with you when heading out – as common as remembering house keys or phones. If we can avoid the need to pick up a single-use covering at the shops it will mean less litter and fewer problems for local authorities. 

“We can stop this now. We are asking people to choose to reuse. A significant number of people could move from disposable alternatives and help protect the environment.” 

In Scotland it is mandatory to wear face coverings in certain indoor public places, shops, on public transport, and bus and train stations. Revisions to existing guidance means face coverings are also now required by many school pupils and parents on the school run. 

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 layers thick and preferably three. 


Our CEO Barry Fisher commented: “Staying safe is, of course, everyone’s main priority at the moment. But it is extremely frustrating to see the face coverings and gloves that help to keep us safe discarded as litter when they should, and could, be put in a bin. 

“Scotland is facing the prospect of a litter emergency, thanks to a minority of thoughtless individuals, and face coverings are just adding to this issue. And at a time when we need our outside spaces more than ever before, our polling shows that during lockdown 29% of people think that litter got worse. This is not right. 

“By working together we want to encourage people to dispose of their waste responsibly, or even better, to use suitable reusable face coverings instead. This way we can make sure we keep Scotland beautiful for the benefit of all of us.” 


Catherine Gemmell, Scotland conservation officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Thanks to nearly 400 volunteers surveying and cleaning Scottish beaches in September we got a valuable - though highly concerning - snapshot of how many face coverings are being littered along our coastline. With nearly a quarter of beaches surveyed in Scotland reporting Covid-related litter we need to raise awareness now to stop these numbers getting any higher.

“We are delighted to be working alongside Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful to be promoting reuse where possible and responsible disposal when not, our ocean is facing unprecedented threats as it is, let's sort this one out quickly.” 

The campaign has a strong social media element and involves working with influencers to highlight reusable as the stylish and environmentally friendly option.  

The partnership follows on from the recent Scotland is Stunning campaign that Zero Waste Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Scottish Government ran throughout the summer and encouraged people to enjoy the country’s great outdoors responsibly and to take litter home. 

Please share the message from our social media channels (@KSBScotland), for further details and to access the campaign toolkit, please visit - https://www.zerowastepartners.org.uk/reuse-beats-single-use


10 November 2020

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