face mask litter

Action: Think about your face-masks

Cost of taking action: NIL

This week we want you to think carefully about the negative impact on our environment of the mass use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and indeed since, and try to reduce it if at all possible. Of course, we should all stay safe, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be careful about the environment too.

Things to think about with your face mask include:

  • using a washable, reusable face mask instead of a disposable
  • littering caused by face masks
  • recyclability
  • the sheer numbers involved
  • snip or snap!

Let’s look at each of these in turn.


Firstly, there is little doubt that reusable masks are better for our planet. They can be washed and rewashed day after day alongside your normal laundry, which completely avoids the littering and landfill problems caused by the disposable type. However, of course, you do need to make sure they are only used for a maximum of one day – rewashing after each day of use prevents the build up of viruses, bacteria and dirt on your mask and helps to keep you safe. Good quality reusable face masks can be bought for a couple of pounds/dollars/euros in supermarkets.


Using disposable face masks can be convenient, especially where you might have to change your mask frequently. However, we should dispose of them properly. Face mask littering is a massive problem, so please do your bit to ensure they go into the waste system properly. Take a look at this article from EnvironmentJournal to learn more. Littering with face masks is disgusting, and it is understandable that other people are not likely to want to pick them up.


Unfortunately, disposable face masks are not recyclable, so they end up in landfill. They are made from a variety of mixed products, but are primarily plastic-based, so they add significantly to the plastic pollution problem that we all know about already. Don’t be fooled by the look and feel of masks – they are not made of paper and are not recyclable. Don’t put them in the recycling bin, they will contaminate the system and can also threaten the health of waste disposal workers.


The numbers involved at the height of COVID-19 were staggering. We are a world population of nearly 8 billion people, all trying to protect ourselves. At this link, greenmatters.com report that we disposed of an estimated 130 billion face masks every single month that we dealt with COVID. We think that particular figure is probably overstated, but even if it was only a quarter of that, it amounts to about a third of a trillion masks a year!

Even though COVID-19 is not as prevalent as it was, in many countries it is still present, and in many others people use masks anyway because of other diseases, and pollution. So our message is simple – use a reusable mask whenever you can and if you have to use disposables make sure they enter the waste management system properly.

Staying safe and being green are not mutually exclusive!

Snip or snap – a simple, thoughtful action that can save a bird’s life

There is another problem with masks that you can help with too – the loops get entangled with wildlife and cause distress, injury and death. By resolving to snap or snip the loops on your face mask when you dispose of it you reduce the risk of this happening.

Even if we are all very good about disposing of our face masks properly, in most if not all countries they make their way to landfill in their billions. On top of that, we know that many people do not take care over disposal, we only have to walk along a city street to see disposable face masks littering our environment.

From either, they are quickly pecked at or picked up by curious birds. Tangling or ingestion results in distress, pain, injury and death.

gulls at landfill site

It’s very simple to do the right thing; before you throw away a disposable face mask, please SNIP the loops, or pull them to SNAP them.

Of course, it would be best to use reusable cloth face masks if you can, but we recognise that this is not possible for everyone.

Take action

Even as we are using fewer face masks than at the height of the pandemic, they are still disposed of in huge quantities. Please, be thoughtful and take steps to reduce the impact of yours on our environment and wildlife.

And, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below. Thank you for your support.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top