Let’s face it – face coverings CAN go into general waste

From next Monday (15 June), it will be compulsory for anyone using public transport in England to wear a face covering. These are already recommended in some enclosed spaces where social distancing can be difficult and, as more people start to return to work, it’s likely that they will become more of a norm than a novelty.

Phil Steer, Commercial Manager – Clinical, at Grundon Waste Management, says the challenge is not putting them on – it’s what you do with them when you take them off. Here, he explains the rules on disposing of face coverings.

Sometimes it seems that it’s hard to keep on top of the latest information on what we should all be doing (or not doing) to look after ourselves, and others, as we slowly come out of lockdown.

While handwashing and social distancing remain a top priority, the shift towards the general public wearing face coverings has been ramped up with the announcement that these will be compulsory on public transport from next Monday. Hospital visitors and out-patients will also be required to wear face coverings.

For many businesses, including shops, the next few weeks mark a return to a type of normality, albeit often with strict guidelines in place around the number of employees or customers allowed in at any one time.

Some organisations are going further than official guidelines and they are choosing to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), such as face coverings, mandatory in the workplace too.

As employees gradually return to work after weeks of furlough I can see why this would be a comfort to those who have spent their time closeted behind closed doors and who may be concerned about ‘catching’ Covid-19.

We all have a duty of care to our colleagues and the wider community around us, and if implementing the wearing of face coverings ticks all the right boxes for an organisation and its staff, then our role is to support them by enabling the safe disposal of such equipment.

No need to dispose of non-healthcare PPE as clinical waste

Unfortunately, there will always be those who seek to profit from such challenging times and we have become aware of some more unscrupulous companies who seek to persuade businesses that this type of PPE should go into clinical waste.

As experts in the safe and secure disposal of waste (including clinical waste) I can say this is absolutely not true.

To suggest this route is to run roughshod over the waste hierarchy and totally over-classifies the waste – not to mention making it more costly (disposal of clinical waste is more expensive than general waste), at a time when businesses are already hard-pressed for cash.

In a non-healthcare environment, PPE such as face coverings/face masks and gloves of the type we are talking about here DOES NOT need to be disposed of as clinical waste.

Safe disposal in general waste

Typically, these will be single-use masks or disposable gloves which can safely go into general waste bins or black bags, and sent for energy recovery at facilities such as our Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities.

If organisations wish to install separate bins for the disposal of face coverings etc., then they are of course welcome to do so, but these will be collected and disposed of via the same general waste route as the rest of their black bin collections.

For other types of face coverings – we’ve all seen the ‘patterns’ and ‘how-to’ diagrams online to help us make our own out of old t-shirts – or masks that we have bought online, the majority of these will be suitable for washing at home and reusing. For those that are not, the black bag beckons once again.

Throughout of course, the Government has stressed that surgical face masks should be left for healthcare and other frontline workers. But if these are being worn in a non-healthcare environment, they too should go into general waste for disposal.

What is essential, is that we do not see items such as plastic masks or gloves start to creep into recycling waste bins – this type of plastic waste cannot be recycled.

Even if an organisation finds it has a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within its premises, the waste (face mask/tissues etc) can STILL go into black bag waste, but it should be double bagged and stored for 72 hours before being collected.

Only then, if on-site storage is not possible, would we collect this as clinical waste and take it to our specialist facilities for disposal.

If you or your organisation are in any doubt about PPE disposal methods, then please call 01628 501 591 or email clinical@grundon.com for help and advice.