Is the UK on the brink of a face mask litter crisis?

As part of a recent campaign, here at Regatta we wanted to look in-depth at the UK litter Crisis. After gaining insightful data from the charity ‘Keep Britain Tidy’, we were able to uncover the true extent of the litter crisis that’s developing across the country. From the most common types of litter found in the UK each year, to the shocking amount of litter dropped each second; the data was a stark reminder as to why it’s time to act now and turn the tide on the UK’s bad litter habits.

Regatta Urges People To Dispose Of Their Face Masks Correctly

Our campaign found that it’s smoking-related litter which causes one of the main issues in the UK. However, as the country continues to battle a global pandemic, could this mean smoking-related litter is surpassed by a new item we’re now using and discarding on a daily basis?

Face mask

The impact of face masks on the environment

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more than 96 per cent of adults confirmed that they had worn a face covering after leaving their home since the outbreak. Although this lifestyle change is hopefully slowing the spread of COVID-19, large numbers of people are wearing disposable masks, and not disposing of them properly, opting for the floor instead of a bin.

A recent survey of 2,000 respondents found that over 51 per cent of people are using a single-use face covering on a daily basis, which totals around 27 million people. Experts say that a single-use face covering should only be used for a certain amount of time, meaning on average, a person changes their mask twice a day.

Although we can take positives from the large number of people admitting to wearing a face covering, more education needs to be done in order to inform people of the correct ways to dispose of their masks.

The rising issues presented by face masks

We’ve touched upon the upon the benefits of face masks, but if they're not disposed of correctly, then they're only going to add to the current litter crisis the UK is facing.

Using Ipswich as an example, anti-litter campaigner Jason Alexander revealed that in one single day he recovered around 50 face masks from the streets within his local area. Although this shocking figure is alarming on it’s own, people who drop face masks on the streets and in beauty spots across the UK are likely unaware of the materials they’re made from and the damage they can have on the environment if not disposed of correctly.

In times gone by face masks were simply made from cloth, but this is no longer the case. Modern day disposable face masks typically contain plastic materials such as polypropylene. Over recent years we have been alerted to the plastics crisis the UK is experiencing and how it is damaging our waters and local nature, so it’s vital face masks are disposed of in the correct manner.

Guidance suggests that the correct way to dispose of a single-use face covering is to remove the two straps from the fabric piece of the mask and dispose of them separately. By doing this the risk to wildlife is reduced and we're less likely to find them littering our local area. As it's highly likely the nation will be asked to continue to wear a face covering for the foreseeable future; to protect our wildlife and environment around us, now might be the time to invest in a reusable face mask.

Is the UK on the brink of a new type of litter crisis?

The figures discussed in this post are extremely frightening, but to add to this, a recent campaign created by InYourArea and ‘Clean Up Britain’, found that 90 per cent of people surveyed admitted that they had seen face masks littering the streets; with a further 87 per cent saying they wouldn’t feel comfortable picking one up and disposing of it accordingly.

Our UK litter crisis campaign revealed some alarming figures, but the data we’ve shared above makes you wonder if we’re on the brink of a whole new litter epidemic. With the UK population now having to wear face coverings in a number of settings, it’s important we all play our part in using them correctly and disposing of them in the right manner - don't forget to bin it!

Join our conversation and share your litter experiences on social media using #UKLitterCrisis

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