A Guide to the Proper Disposal of Masks


The PV Student Publication has partnered with The Research Club to publish a series of research essays entitled “The Research Publications.” This essay explains how to properly dispose of used masks.

(Editor’s Note: The PV Student Publication has partnered with The Research Club to publish a series of research essays related to topics of COVID-19. All research essays are written and fact-checked by members of the Research Club, and The PV Student Publication is rolling out these essays as a service to our community. This essay explains how to properly dispose of used masks. This essay is written by juniors Dara Viganola and Jessica Ricco,  fact-checked by junior Jolie Bellaff, and edited by senior Elise Schicker). 

In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, all of us need to be participating by wearing masks, and equally important, properly disposing of them. According to the World Health Organization, “COVID-19 particles can survive on a mask for up to a week”. When masks are laying around parks and streets, those responsible for cleaning up litter and mess are at a higher risk of contracting and further spreading the virus. This matters because stopping the spread of this virus allows the world to get back to living a somewhat normal life. Improper disposal of masks also has a great effect on the health and prosperity of our planet.  The United States Liberty of Medicine stated “In April 2020, the highest rate of medical waste was estimated at around 14,500 tons during the COVID-19 pandemic”. According to Scientific American,  “Globally we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month, according to some estimates”. The material used for disposable masks can be harmful to the environment and takes a very long time to decompose in landfills[5] [9].  Thus, regarding disposable medical supplies being thrown out every day, the global pandemic affecting the world is also hurting the environment.[11] [13].

The common non-reusable masks worn by people all over the world are made of a material called Polypropylene(4). The surgical masks that people wear almost every day are made of plastic, and it can take a couple of centuries for polypropylene to fully decompose in landfills(5). According to Collier County and Storage.neic, some other non-reusable face masks are made of Polystyrene, Polyethylene, and Polyester which can all take anywhere between 20 to 1000 years to fully decompose. The time that it takes for these other common plastic material-made masks to fully decompose is alarmingly high and holds great effects on the environment(6) (7) (8)

Now you may be asking yourself, how should I discard my used masks? It’s pretty simple. According to the independent, “the government issued guidance on disposing of Covid-waste, saying that anyone with the virus should dispose of their household waste in a rubbish bag placed into a second rubbish bag. The outside bag should be securely tied and then kept separate from other people’s waste”. Additionally, the FDA advises “Surgical masks are not intended to be used more than once. If your mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove the face mask, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one. To safely discard your mask, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used mask.” So the simple solution is: Disposable masks should be disposed of properly and safely by placing them into a plastic bag, then thrown away[1] [10]. Proper disposal will help slow the spread of the virus.

This task seems a bit tedious for some people, so there are a few alternative solutions. First, you can buy reusable masks! Reusable masks are made of many different materials and are sold almost everywhere. They are also more environmentally friendly as they can be reused. A few local places you can buy them at are Target, Walmart, Kohls, and a lot of small businesses are selling them too. If you are in need of disposable masks, here are some links to stores that have affordable and safe masks: