Masks are everywhere now. Here’s how to dispose of them properly

Masks are everywhere now. Here’s how to dispose of them properly

Wearing face masks is a clear way to stop the spread of COVID-19, so now they’re everywhere.

Some are reusable cloth masks, while others are disposable and intended to be used just one time. It’s important to know how to dispose of them properly.

“While it’s especially important to keep yourselves and others healthy by masking up right now, it’s also important to keep the Earth we rely on healthy, too,” says Travis Hawks, a sustainability specialist with Advocate Aurora Health.

For starters, you should properly dispose of face masks in the garbage and don’t litter. Masks have been found on the sides of nature trails and littering neighborhoods.

“These masks ultimately end up in our waterways, can tangle or suffocate wildlife, and break down into microplastics that get ingested by wildlife and humans alike if not disposed of properly. Most single-use masks are made of polypropylene plastic, which take up to 450 years to degrade in the environment,” says Hawks.

For another, you should cut the ear loops of your disposable mask before you throw it away. That way, birds can’t get caught in the loops if they happen upon a mask in the garbage or if they end up in the environment. It’s like how you’re encouraged to snip those plastic rings that fit around six-packs of beer and soda. This is an easy thing to do and might help a bird.

For your safety and safety of others, it’s important to follow the following precautions to prevent virus transmission when disposing of your mask.

After mask removal, dispose into an appropriate waste receptacle, and perform hand hygiene using alcohol based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or soap & water if available. If using a cloth mask, the CDC recommends regular cleaning.

While not everyone is crafty enough to make one, cloth masks can be re-used if you wash them regularly. You can watch the video below to learn more about what to look for in a cloth mask.

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  1. Hopefully we’ll see less masks on the employee parking lots after this article.

  2. Thanks for the info – I did not think of cutting the elastics even though I do cut all six pack rings, etc. Thanks again and I will share that info

  3. “450 YEARS TO DEGRADE IN THE ENVIRONMENT”?!!! Why are we not using cloth/reusable masks and helping the environment? These masks seem to be good enough for our patients. Doesn’t Advocate feel any responsibility in this area?

  4. It’s about time someone in the medical field addressed this new source of garbage. I’ve been ranting about it for months and pick up masks that I find in order to cut the loops and place them in the trash. Masks and those stupid sanitizing wipes have taken the place of the plastic bag as the most commonly seen garbage in retail parking lots.

    There really is no reason for anyone to have the disposable masks anymore. I see cloth ones for sale everywhere, from cheap plain ones to costlier ones with any type of pattern, slogan, or cute little animal you could want on them. They can be washed and used over and over, so they’re even less expensive than something you throw away after one use and then have to repurchase.

  5. You know, I see hundreds of masks in the trash cans on the way out each day, with the ear loops intact. I’ve also seen a handful of articles and videos about clipping the ear loops, and even more social media about the EXTREME MAGNITUDE of microfiber and disposable mask pollution we’re producing and some pretty disheartening pictures of our beaches and communities.

    I just wanted to share that it’s *extremely* easy to just rip the ear loops right off by hand. No one really carries around scissors (maybe a hemostat here and there) to snip these on their way out of work and it’s clear people haven’t been pocketing their masks to bring home to do this. It’s actually more work to try to find scissors than to just… *yoink.*

    And if there’s “no real need for disposable masks anymore,” why are we still using them?

    • Um, because people are oblivious? Because people don’t care? Because people are lazy? Why are we still using disposable cups, straws, diapers, water bottles, utensils, shopping bags. . . ad infinitum??? There are reusable options for every one of those things plus a myriad more of all the things humans use once and then throw away–wherever “away” is. The masks and sani-wipes are just the latest in all the junk that humans put into the environment, to the detriment of all the other animals on the planet..

About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.