Another day walking the dog. Another encounter with a discarded single-use facemask. Masks are scattered onto verges. They are dropped on roadside. Shoved into hedges.

I encounter this potentially dangerous waste when walking my collie. There have been several around the Co-op on Foldgate Lane over the last couple of weeks. People leaving stores simply discard their single use masks, leaving someone else to clean up the mess. That is despite there being plenty of litter bins.

I am appalled by this behaviour. Dropping litter is a horrid, antisocial habit. Face masks could be dangerous and harbour Covid-19 Dropping a face mask in a residential street could lead it being picked up by a child wanting to play with it. If a mask is dropped accidentally, its owner should pick it up. Better still people should wear reusable, washable face masks.

Just some of the discarded face masks spotted in recent days

When we are talking face masks, we are talking big numbers. Just in the UK alone, 24.7 billion masks are needed a year according to the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub at University College London. If these were all reusable masks, the demand for domestic face masks would drop significantly to 136 million a year. But many people seem to prefer single use masks as they are safe and convenient.

That why face mask littering is becoming such a problem. Researchers are warning that coronavirus face masks could be an environmental disaster that might last generations.

I will only wear a disposable mask myself if I have forgotten one of my reusable masks. But usually I put the reusable mask around my neck first thing in the morning. I regard it as essential as putting on my trousers or wearing a hat. Face masks are also becoming a fashionable – a bit like the leggings of the 1980s inspired by the musical Fame. And the masks are washed just like any other clothing.

A fashion accessory?

Face masks are compulsory in enclosed public spaces, including shops, buses and trains. Many people wear them much of the time when they are out.

Experts say Covid-19 could remain on masks for a week. That is why it is concerning that some people think they can discard them at will.

The government advice is straightforward:

If you need to throw away used face coverings or PPE, such as gloves:

  • dispose of them in your black waste bin at home or at work (the colour of waste bins varies by council area), or a litter bin if you’re outside
  • do not put them in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities
  • take them home with you if there is no litter bin – do not drop them as litter.

You do not need to:

  • put them in an extra bag
  • store them for a time before throwing them away.

This is good advice. It’s not rocket science. It is simply safe, responsible behaviour.

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