Photo of a single-use face covering littered in the snow.jpeg

Face It: Reuse Beats Single-Use

01 Dec 21 6 minute read

Choose to use a reusable face covering that can be washed and worn again and again.

During the coronavirus pandemic over one-third of Scots wore disposable face coverings. These contain plastics that can’t be recycled and, sadly, the widespread use of face coverings has led to continued evidence of a spike in associated litter and we are now seeing them polluting our coasts, countryside, cities, towns and waterways.

A study by the Marine Conservation Society reported Covid-related litter from face coverings or gloves was found on a third of surveyed Scottish beaches. Keep Scotland Beautiful has also reported finding an increase in Covid-related litter during its litter picks.

One littered face covering can last decades in our environment and conservationists are warning that dealing with the aftermath of the increase in plastic and disposable items during the pandemic may be felt for years to come.

If every Scot used one single-use face covering every day for a month it would create 875 tonnes of plastic waste - the same as Glasgow's Titan Crane! #ReuseBeatsSingleUse

What can you do?

  1. Choose a reusable face covering. Remember to wash it after every use.

  2. Carry a spare so you don’t need to use or buy a disposable face covering if something goes wrong with the one you’re wearing.

  3. If you do need to use a disposable face covering, put it straight into a general waste bin after one use.

  4. Never put disposable face coverings in the recycling bin – they are not accepted by household recycling collections - and whatever you do, don’t litter any face covering.

  5. Download our social media graphics to help share the message that #ReuseBeatsSingleUse in your own community. 

How can we protect our health and our planet?

Evidence suggests face coverings have value in protecting public health, in crowded and less well-ventilated spaces, and where physical distancing is not possible.

However, choosing to use a reusable face covering will also help protect our environment.

Shop-bought and homemade reusable face coverings, as well as other items such as snoods and buffs, can all be effectively used to slow the spread of the virus. Many Revolve certified second-hand stores sell these items too, often made from repurposed fabrics.

Face coverings should be at least two layers and preferably three layers thick. This option also gives people more choice of what to wear and helps us get the best out of our resources while helping to lessen the impact on our environment in these difficult times.

Over the festive season, be sure to play your part – protect your friends, family and our planet by choosing to wear a reusable face covering and have a zero-waste Christmas.

Face coverings needn’t cost the earth

As well as protecting your health and our planet, reusable face coverings make sense for your pocket. It is estimated that people could save around £180 per year by switching to reusable face coverings from disposable for daily use.

As disposable face coverings can’t be recycled, they end up going to landfill or being incinerated, releasing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Around 80% of our carbon footprint in Scotland comes from the things we buy and use. By opting to wear a reusable face covering, you will be reducing your consumption and choosing to protect the planet.

There are also businesses out there that are going one step further and making reusable face coverings in a sustainable way. For example, Prickly Thistle produces reusable face coverings and runs a subscription service to ensure all face coverings are replaced and repurposed on a regular basis.

Around 80% of our carbon footprint in Scotland comes from the things we buy and use. By opting to wear a reusable face covering, you will be reducing your consumption and choosing to protect the planet. #ReuseBeatsSingleUse.

Show your style

Reusable face coverings give us more choice and can be as unique as you. Show your style, add some pattern, brighten someone’s day a little with a splash of colour or a more festive design.

There are lots of shop-bought or online options to help you add some flair but if you can’t find what you want there’s even the option to make your own.

Example of a Face It Campaign social media asset with face covering, mobile phone and keys.

Keeping reusable face coverings clean

Now that you’ve got your reusable face covering, repurposed an item you already own or crafted something yourself, it should now be your go-to accessory to look after and maintain like you would any favourite piece of clothing.   

The Scottish Government has provided guidance on how to keep your reusable face covering clean: 

  • Ensure reusable face coverings are washed at the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade, after every use.
  • Only handwash your face covering if a washing machine is unavailable. For handwashing, lather face coverings for at least 20 seconds using warm to hot water before drying, ideally in a dryer. Iron face coverings on the cotton or linen setting to kill any remaining germs.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before you apply or remove your face covering.
  • When removing your face covering, take it off using the ear loops or ties to avoid touching your face.
  • When temporarily storing your face covering, in a pocket or bag, keep it in a sealable washable bag or container and avoid putting it on surfaces due to the possibility of contamination.

What to do with disposable items

Disposable face coverings are not accepted by household recycling collections.

If you’ve already purchased disposable items or have been supplied with these for work in a non-healthcare setting, it’s important to dispose of them safely and responsibly.

Disposable face coverings worn in non-healthcare settings should be carefully placed in the general (black bag) waste bin after use and never dropped on the ground. Make sure to snip the elastics on them too so that wildlife doesn’t accidentally get entangled in them should your face covering go astray.

Littering is a crime so do the right thing, save yourself a fine and do your bit to help slow the spread of coronavirus whilst respecting our communities, wildlife and countryside - put single-use face coverings in the general waste bin after use.

Terracycle Zero Waste Bags are available to purchase and accept personal protective equipment.

What if someone in my household is showing symptoms of coronavirus?

It is important that you dispose of disposable face coverings and gloves safely and responsibly. 

If you, or someone in your household, is showing symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus, you must take extra precautions before disposing of face coverings and gloves:

  • Double bag personal waste items that have been in contact with the person (including face covering or gloves).
  • Store the waste safely for 72 hours (three days).
  • Put in the general (black bag) waste bin.