A scheme to recycle single-use facemasks into waste-collection equipment has been launched in the UK.
Cornwall social enterprise Waterhaul is leading the ‘Retask the Mask’ campaign to combat the environmental impact and has chosen Earth Day (April 22) to begin the initiative.
Statistics reveal 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, says Waterhaul.
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.
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.
“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.”
Waterhaul is aiming to be part of a wider waste solution. They are launching ‘Retask the Mask’ to coincide with Earth Day to raise awareness of the extreme levels of face mask pollution, and the potential harm they can cause to the environment when discarded.
Their aim is to inspire an environmental clean-up, globally and closer to home, by encouraging people to join in with their campaign.
Dennis added: “Studies have found that being in nature whilst taking positive action to protect it can deliver significant mental wellbeing benefits. This is so relevant at the moment, and as we move towards brighter prospects this Spring, we’re aiming to incorporate the ‘do good, feel good’ effect into the daily walks and exercise that have got us through lockdown.”