A scheme to recycle single-use facemasks into waste collection equipment has been launched in the UK. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, a local authority is promoting reusable facemasks.

Cornwall social enterprise Waterhaul is leading the ‘Retask the Mask’ campaign, launching the initiative on 22 April.

Statistics appear to reveal that 58 million masks are used a day in the UK, making them one of the most common forms of plastic pollution, with an estimated 1.5 billion masks already entering the ocean.

As mask usage is still required as a preventative measure in the spread of Covid-19, these figures are expected to grow, causing lasting damage.

Waterhaul, which specialises in recycling plastic waste and fishing nets from the ocean into functional products, has trialled the project with Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which will also save the NHS from having to pay £550 per ton to incinerate the masks.

Instead, Waterhaul will pay for each plastic block, created by the hospital from melting down the masks using a dedicated onsite machine. Waterhaul will use these plastic blocks to create litter pickers. Full-scale manufacturing of the recycled litter picker will be done in the UK and is set to begin in May.

“This new wave of plastic PPE pollution is a very real threat,” said Harry Dennis, CEO at Waterhaul.

“We’re aiming to turn this problem into part of the solution. By working with the NHS Trust, we can intercept this plastic at the source before it heads to landfill and create a useful product that will enable us to collectively tackle the masks which have already escaped into the environment.”

Roz Davies, general manager at The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, added: “The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been clear that its vision is to create a circular economy and tackle the growing challenges of single use PPE.

“It’s fantastic news for our staff, patients and visitors to know that we can create a positive outcome from our waste – and that it will go on to make even further positive impact in the form of litter pickers.”

More information about the campaign, including how to support the project’s Kickstarter, are available at https://www.retaskthemask.com

A campaign encouraging the public to switch to using reusable facemasks was launched in December 2020 by North London Waste authority (NLWA).

The group’s website also includes instructions on how to make your own reusable mask (warning: sewing expertise required). For more details visit nlwa.gov.uk/reusable-facemasks.

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