While reusable masks are undoubtedly the most sustainable option as we continue keeping ourselves and our communities safe in the COVID-19 pandemic, there are times in which we might all need to don a single-use mask.
Throwing away your mask properly at the end of each wear is incredibly important for hygiene reasons — a wearer infected with a cold, flu or virus (like the coronavirus) risks spreading the illness if they fail to dispose of their mask correctly.
The Australian Government says the correct way to dispose of a mask is to first wash your hands with soap and water or use hand-sanitiser. Masks should then be removed via the ear loops or bands, not by touching the front of the soiled mask.
Contaminated masks should then be thrown out in a lined general waste bin, and ideally one with a closed fitted lid (unfortunately, masks are not recyclable or biodegradable).
“Where the mask is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place a contaminated mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate,” an explainer on Safe Work Australia reads.
If there are no closed bins within your reach, the official advice is to place a soiled mask into a sealed bag (like a ziplock) and then into the rubbish. Following the disposal of your mask, you must wash and/or sanitise your hands thoroughly.
Now though, we’re being asked to add one more step to the process of disposal. While this step is less about hygiene and safety for people, it is crucial to the environment and its creatures.
Via a viral Instagram post, Canadian content creators Sara and Dan of @Swon.Studios have reminded mask-wearers to cut the straps off their mask before correctly disposing of them as per above.
A series of images taken in recent months show birds tangled up in single-use masks, unable to walk or fly because of the hindrance.
The post asks people to help prevent this by snipping off the ear loops before tossing their masks and to prioritise wearing reusable masks where possible.
If you have not yet purchased a reusable face mask, we’ve compiled a list here that support small businesses in Australia.