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Reusable face coverings will help stamp out litter caused by the coronavirus pandemic

Zero Waste Scotland is renewing calls for people to choose reusable face coverings,after research found that if every Scot used one single-use mask every day for a month, it would create 875 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste – the same weight as Glasgow’s Titan Crane1. 

2 Dec 21

The Face It: Reuse Beats Single-Use campaign returns as evidence from Keep Scotland Beautiful discovered two face masks are found littered per one kilometre across Scotland2, and new data from the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean found Covid-related litter on a third (33 percent) of surveyed Scottish beaches3. 

Now, with the festive season approaching - when more people are expected to be out-and-about seeing friends and loved ones, eating out, or going to events where face coverings will be required – the environmental bodies have joined forces again to urge people to ‘choose to reuse’, wherever possible, to mitigate waste and protect our beautiful landscapes. 

Wearing a face covering or mask helps to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and reusable face coverings are the most environmentally friendly option. They help us protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet, by reducing the amount of single-use plastic waste being created. But, currently, over a third (37 percent) of Scots use a disposable face covering which cannot be recycled - these should always be placed in the general waste bin after use4.  

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said:  

“The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that we are now getting used to living a slightly different way of life. One of these changes is the continued use of protective gear, specifically face coverings. It’s easy to carry a reusable face covering and using them regularly will save you money in the long run. One small act can help protect Scotland’s pristine landscapes. 

“The littering of single-use face coverings represents our throwaway society fuelled by our current mode of consumption. By shopping smarter, reusing more, and wasting less, we can help protect the environment. Be safe and sustainable when you’re out and about this Christmas by investing in a good quality, reusable face covering and making them part of your daily routine. That way you’ll be protecting yourself, your community, and the planet.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said:

“Almost all the litter our volunteers find on beach cleans demonstrates the damaging throwaway culture we’re currently living in.  

“The increase in COVID-related litter on Scottish beaches is of real concern for the environment, and wildlife. We can all play our part in stopping this sort of litter reaching the beach in the first place. If you can choose to use reusables, please do so, and if you use single-use please dispose of it responsibly. Next year, we’d like to see this type of litter declining instead of rising. Our ocean was struggling as it was, we can't afford to make the situation worse.”

Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: 

“Our surveys across Scotland have recorded more than two facemasks per one kilometre which is completely unacceptable. This Covid litter highlights our complete disregard for each other and our communities. It is vital that people bin their litter and wear a reusable face mask when possible. By choosing to reuse, you are reducing your consumption, decreasing the chance of contributing to our looming litter emergency and you are helping to tackle climate change – it is a triple win for our environment.” 

Reusable face coverings should be washed on the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use.   

Shop-bought and homemade reusable face coverings, as well as other items (such as snoods), can all be effectively used to slow the spread of the virus. These should be at least two (preferably three) layers thick and tight to the face. 

Reducing the demand for single-use face coverings is one way to tackle the problem of consumption, after it was found that around four-fifths (80 percent) of Scotland’s footprint comes from the products and materials we manufacture, use and throw away. Zero Waste Scotland is encouraging Scots to reduce their consumption where possible. In a circular economy, existing materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and nothing is wasted. 



Notes For Editors

1 Research shows that if every Scot used one single-use face covering every day for a month, it would create 875 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste – that’s the same weight as Glasgow’s Titan crane. This figure comes from a UK-wide stat published in a paper by UCL’s Plastic Innovation Hub which said that if every person in the UK used one single-use face covering each day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste. The figure was then extrapolated by Zero Waste Scotland to produce the equivalent for Scotland (10,500 tonnes), and then to a monthly figure to make it more relatable to the weight of a recognisable landmark (875 tonnes). 

2Keep Scotland Beautiful coordinates annual surveys using the Local Environment Auditing and Management System (LEAMs) across thousands of sites in Scotland. Data collected from October 2020 to April 2021 recorded 2.26 PPE items recorded every 1 km. 

3 According to new data from the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Great British Beach Clean, volunteers found Covid related litter on 33% of Scottish beaches in its survey data. Data from the MCS’s 2021 Great British Beach Clean found PPE on 33 percent of the 129 beaches surveyed in Scotland. 

4 Currently, over a third (37 percent) of Scots use a single-use face covering. (Zero Waste Scotland consumer polling carried out in Feb 2021 with 56 Degree Insight. 1004 people in Scotland were surveyed. A total of 37 percent said they always or sometimes used a disposable face covering in response to the question: ‘When you are in public places where they are required (e.g. supermarkets), which of the following type(s) of face covering would you normally wear?’). 

About Zero Waste Scotland

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change.

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy. 

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.

More information on all Zero Waste Scotland’s programmes can be found at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/. You can also keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland via our social media channels - Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn. 

The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit our website or follow @scotgovESIF. 

About Keep Scotland Beautiful

Keep Scotland Beautiful is your charity for the environment.  We work with you to help combat climate change, reduce litter and waste and protect and enhance the places we care for.  Further details at www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org Keep Scotland Beautiful is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO): Number SC030332. 

About The Marine Conservation Society 

The Marine Conservation Society campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and protection of marine life. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, the Marine Conservation Society raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment. The Marine Conservation Society provides information and guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces the Good Fish Guide as well as involving thousands of volunteers in projects and surveys such as Beachwatch. The charity has run a dedicated Scotland programme from its Edinburgh office, established in April 2000. www.mcsuk.org. 

For media enquiries contact:

Sophie Thirkell, Communications Consultant (PR & Media), Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07966 284095 

Email: sophie.thirkell@zerowastescotland.org.uk

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