discarded face mask Image By Chris Redan AdobeStock_342234510

Single-use masks could mean an extra 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste

Plastic Free Bedford and local Green Party councillors are encouraging residents to consider the environment when choosing a face covering to wear. The call comes as new guidelines mean that from 24 July 2020 face coverings will be compulsory for shop customers.

The group said that the problem with single-use masks is that they are most often made from non-biodegradable and non-recyclable materials. Adding that these are harmful to the environment and add to the existing problem of single-use plastics and littering.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the selling of protective masks (particularly single-use) has risen. These can end up being discarded in parks and public spaces, polluting our streets and even ending up in our rivers.

According to an analysis by scientists at University College London, if every person in the UK used one single-use mask each day for a year, an extra 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste would be created.

Lucy Bywater, councillor for Bedford Borough’s Castle Ward, said:

“Wearing a face covering in public spaces such as shops is an important way for COVID-19 infected people without symptoms to help prevent spreading the virus.

“But this shouldn’t mean more throw-away plastic or litter. There are lots of good options for simple washable face coverings, and even ones that are home-made or even that raise money for good causes.

“We may have to get used to this new way of living for some time so adopting the reusable route now is definitely best and will be cheaper for people too.

“Also important to remember that masks don’t give full protection so we still need to practice proper hygiene and social distancing where possible, and if you’re feeling at all unwell you should stay at home of course.”

​Cory Walker, community lead at Plastic Free Bedford, said:

“By choosing a reusable mask, you not only free up medical grade masks for the NHS and healthcare workers, you are doing your bit to help our planet, which has been affected greatly by the pandemic.”

Cory added that reusable face masks do not have to be complicated.

“You can simply make one from a scarf you own or even make your own from materials following instructions online. They are also available to purchase in a lot of online shops with a variety of patterns and colours.

“It is recommended that these are washed at a temperature of 60 degrees so they are ready to be reused over and over again.”

Plastic Free Bedford Facebook page has more information on reusable masks and the problems around single-use plastics.

Information can also be found on the Sustainable Bedford Facebook and Twitter pages.