The government is to pilot eye protection and medical grade masks that can be reused at the end of their life
"We plan to pilot reusable eye protection where the product can be recycled at the end of its life. We have recycled 22 million visors to make plastic containers, which can be used to store food items and will also be recyclable." Edward Argar, health minister
Medical grade face masks could be “recycled into curtains, mattress covers or other products”, health minister Edward Argar has said.
The government intends to tackle the mountain of plastic waste generated in response to the pandemic. A study carried out by Nanjing University, and published online by the journal PNAS in November 2021 found that eight million tonnes of pandemic-associated plastic waste had been generated globally.
The study showed that, of that waste, more than 25,000 tonnes had made its way into the ocean, most of it carried out to sea by rivers after being thrown away. It said: “Most of the plastic is from medical waste generated by hospitals that dwarfs the contribution from personal protection equipment and online-shopping package material.”
Of the total pandemic-related plastic waste that was incorrectly disposed of, the largest share came from across Asia – 46% – with Europe generating the second highest amount, 24%.
Argar, speaking in response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney, said that the government was looking at ways of recycling face masks and other personal protective equipment: “We are reviewing the potential of reusable Type IIR [medical grade] masks in acute settings, using existing laundry services to reduce the need for single-use products.”
He added: “We plan to pilot reusable eye protection where the product can be recycled at the end of its life. We have recycled 22 million visors to make plastic containers, which can be used to store food items and will also be recyclable.”
He added that NHS Test and Trace was “exploring alternatives to current test devices” which would be “safe, effective and made of predominantly recyclable or biodegradable materials”.
Ms Olney welcomed the announcement, saying: “Many of my constituents raised concerns at the volume of plastic in testing kits and in particular disposable masks. This government wasted £2 billion of taxpayers’ money on contracts for PPE that was so poor quality it couldn’t be used, so it is about time they cleaned up their act.”
Earlier this month, the government revealed that nearly 10% of the 36.4 billion items of PPE it had acquired since January 2020 was identified as “potential excess” and was not being used.