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A Face Mask Recycling PSA

One of the saddest things I have seen since the beginning of the pandemic is the amount of face masks that are left to blow endlessly around parking lots and streets. Many of them are one time use and since they are so cheap they seem to be a low priority for people to even find a trash can for. I understand well that life is busy and dealing with the small things adds up quickly, but we all inhabit the same planet and it is our duty to make sure that we treat it well. Bearing that in mind, the best thing to do with your disposable face mask is recycle it.

It may come as a surprise to some, but your face mask is most likely made of the same thing that holds your sour cream, and that is polypropylene. Which is the second most commonly used plastic in the world and definitely, 100% recyclable. While it may not seem like it, since the application is so different, face masks are just one of many ways that polypropylene can be extruded and used in a dynamic fashion. Therefore it can go in the same recycling that a water bottle would and its lifecycle may very well find it becoming a water bottle once it is melted down and re-formed.

While the majority of the mask can be recycled, unfortunately there are some components that we cannot reuse. Thankfully these are the smaller parts of the mask and are fairly easy to remove once you are ready to recycle it. The nose bridge is usually made of either polypropylene or a paper/polypropylene mixture with a metal wire in the middle which makes it difficult to properly recycle. The easiest way to remove it is to make an incision with scissors at the top of the mask where the nose bridge is housed and slide it out. The nice thing is that since the nose bridge is literally a twist tie, you can reuse it for any task a twist tie would be good for, from keeping a bag of bread closed to tying a plant to a stake. 

The other component that needs to be removed is the ear loop, which is simply not made of materials that are recyclable. Most are made of a polyester/spandex blend (ours are) which is unfortunately not able to be recycled into a useful material. You can remove them from the mask by peeling them at their attachment point towards the mask itself until they come loose. While they can be cut off with scissors, peeling them ensures that little of the ear loop is left and the rest of the face mask can be properly recycled. There are many uses for ear loops once they are removed and finding a creative way to use them is a great way to reduce waste. If you have to throw them away at least you have made a great effort towards reducing waste and every step counts.