Aussies at risk of 'huge' face mask issue: 'It's getting bigger'

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read
  • Single-use masks are generally not recyclable

  • They should be placed in red-lidded bins

  • Masks put in recycling are hazardous to workers

One of Australia’s largest mask manufacturers is calling on governments to install more bins to stop Covid-19 protection being littered on our streets.

States including NSW, Victoria and Queensland, as well as the ACT, have strict mask mandates to help prevent the spread of the virus, and unfortunately they often end up littered on the ground rather than in a rubbish bins.

Acknowledging the problem of littered masks “is getting bigger”, All Cast PPE CEO Scott Huntsman is concerned that his product is making it into waterways and posing a risk to wildlife.

A littered mask on the street. A man pulling a bin along the beach.
A leading PPE manufacturer is calling for more infrastructure to deal with Australia's growing disposable mask problem. Source: Getty / AAP - File

Mr Huntsman said it is logistically impossible for his company to ensure that all masks are disposed of properly, despite labelling on the packets, and believes it is the responsibility of governments both local and state to work together and tackle the problem.

Although he has sent multiple emails to the NSW Government about the issue, he said he is yet to receive an answer.

"We need more resources focused on cleaning up dumped masks,” he said.

"It's a huge issue.”

Last year, All Cast PPE produced 212 million masks, and as they now have the capacity to produce 2.5 billion a year, he doesn’t want to be seeing more on the streets on Sydney where he is based.

“We’re one of the industry leaders of mass manufacturing, but we also do pay attention to the ramifications of our products,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“We do see (masks littered) in train stations, and you see them in local parks and places like that.”

Masks make up less than 1 per cent of litter, authorities say

The NSW Environment Protection Authority told Yahoo News Australia that they regularly monitor rubbish disposed across land and sea, and in 2020 face masks made up less than 1 per cent of litter in NSW.

The agency added that the NSW Government has invested $50 million over nine years to prevent littering, and that last year the program had a “significant impact” resulting in a 43 per cent reduction across the state.

Three household bins in a row.
The EPA has warned that most single-use masks cannot be recycled. Source: AAP - File

Future targets include reducing all litter by 60 per cent by 2030, as well as plastic litter by 30 per cent by 2025.

How to correctly dispose of masks

As most disposable masks contain a mix of soft plastics they are unable to be recycled and should be disposed of with garbage in red-lidded bins.

The EPA warned that masks thrown in with recyclables can become tangled in equipment and pose a safety issue to workers.

Mr Huntsman said his company is now working towards creating biodegradable masks out of bamboo.

Despite moving to a greener alternative, he believes this will not result in a more expensive product, and he expects to have them on the shelves in the near future.

Simple tip to reduce harming wildlife

Many wildlife advocates encourage mask wearers to cut the straps on their masks before disposing of them. Here is more on the issue:

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