arc21 Warns That Disposable Face Mask Rubbish Will Be With Us For Generations

07 April 2021

arc21 Warns That Disposable Face Mask Rubbish Will Be With Us For Generations
arc21 has warned that the plastics in disposable facemasks, gloves and other personal protection equipment (PPE) is creating an environmental problem that “will be with us for generations”.
Tim Walker, acting CEO of arc21, was commenting on a Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful survey which revealed that at any one time there are over 7,000 items of PPE litter discarded on Northern Ireland’s streets.
Other research has estimated that 52m face masks are being used daily in the UK and that globally the figure could be 129bn every month[1].  The Single Use Plastic used to manufacture the masks is not bio-degradable and if not disposed of correctly, will end up being carried into local waterways and on to the oceans.
Mr Walker, acting CEO of arc21, said:
“Public health is our first and foremost concern during the pandemic and there are occasions when it’s necessary to use PPE made from Single Use Plastic.  Given, however, that disposable PPE is creating not just litter, but an environmental problem which will be with us for generations, we should all use reusable masks whenever possible.
“Single Use Plastic is exactly as it is described.  It can’t be reused or recycled; it just breaks down into smaller and smaller micro-plastic particles which will end up in oceans, in animals, in the food chain and eventually, in people.
“Every year, it’s estimated that more than eight million tons of plastic escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of a bin lorry full of plastic being tipped into the sea every minute.
“As a society we need to end our love affair with Single Use Plastic and support producers and policies which promote alternative solutions. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to make the switch to reusable masks for the sake of our wildlife and environment, and for our frontline waste workers who have to deal with this potentially infected rubbish.”
In January, when asked about Single Use Plastic in the NI Assembly, the DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots, confirmed that he was working to introduce measures for “the removal of 9 different single use items in line with other UK administrations”[2].
The survey results were collected during the annual Northern Ireland Litter Survey, a country wide survey carried out by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful to assess the quality and cleanliness of public spaces. Full findings from the survey are available in the Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report.
Tim Walker appeared on BBC Radio Foyle’s The Mark Patterson Show on 7th April 2021 to discuss this issue, this can be heard (starting at 22:40 mins) here.




[1] TradeWaste

[2] NI Assembly Written Answer