EPA Rules for Face Mask Disposal in Trash Causes Landfill Overflow

12 Jun, 2021 Face Mask Disposal

COVID-19 launched the world into a massive state of panic and pain that often wreaked havoc on established practice methods. The sudden advent of individuals wearing face masks created an overflow of these items in the general populace and also generated questions about what to do with the accelerated quantity of PPE (personal protection equipment) for disposal. Turning to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) seemed to be a natural action, and yet little or no change in direction or instructions were given from the primary division responsible for guidance for these topics. While many people and organizations have been turning to more reliable reusable face masks such as viromasks reusable mask, disposal face masks, along with any/all PPE that may be potentially infected with COVID-19, has become a disaster pollution legacy from the pandemic.

Disposal Mask Disaster

As people continue to use disposable face masks, we have seen such a drastic increase in production that the number of face masks created each day that the quantity could cover a country the size of Switzerland. Considering that face masks contain plastic, the sheer volume of face masks and their plastic that up in landfills and the ocean has escalated already disastrous conditions.  While the federal EPA has established main protocols, each state has its own EPA departments, and it comes as no surprise that instructions vary to the point of bewilderment. In some states, face masks and PPE are treated as standard trash and were once incinerated. However, new EPA rules are now eliminating incineration due to air pollution. Disposable face masks contain microfiber plastics which contribute to marine plastic pollution to the tune of up to an additional 5,160 to 6,880 tons.

Recycling Conundrum

“Pandemic plastic” has become a monster mainstream from the medical industry, and since some are considered “hazardous waste,” recycling organizations can’t touch them. Consumer use of disposable face masks has taken a slight decrease due to individuals using high-tech washable and reusable masks such as Viromasks. However, there are no specific rules or guidelines from the EPA except to put face masks in the trash and not in recycling bins. It’s expected that face masks in landfills and oceans are expected to triple by 2040.

The results of the pandemic use of face masks can be seen almost every day as consumers discard disposable masks on the street. Even though most people are responsible stewards, disposable masks end up in the standard trash, then in landfills, and eventually, the microfiber plastics are in the oceans and waterways. Without appropriate EPA face mask disposal guidelines involving recycling, the explosion of products containing microfibers and microplastics now threatens the land and ocean wildlife. Organizations such as Ocean Conservancy, which relies on global cleanup volunteers, report that face masks and gloves are being seen washed up on shores in more significant volumes.

Responsible consumer products such as Viromasks have addressed the need for reliable, reusable, washable, and high-tech face masks. These face masks are made with hypoallergenic and recycled materials and can be washed up to 40 times. Once they reach end-of-life, they can be offered to recycling companies such as Terracycle so that they don’t contribute to the growing pollution problem.