12 November 2020 by James Langley

Recycling minister backs reusable face masks

The recycling minister has backed the use of reusable face coverings, away from healthcare and PPE uses, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

The comments from minister Rebecca Pow come in the wake of concerns about the littering of disposable masks and the government’s desire to reduce single-use plastics. The topic is also being discussed in Scotland (see below).


Rebecca Pow was responding to a question on the topic asked by the Labour MP for Leeds North West, Alex Sobel, about the effect of the increase in the use of face masks on progress to reduce single-use plastics.

Mrs Pow has highlighted guidance on reusable masks

On 9 November Mrs Pow said: “Face coverings required indoors are not the same as the single-use surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of their PPE. These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace.

“Instead, the latest government advice on face coverings provides instructions on how people can make and care for reusable face coverings at home using scarves or other washable textiles.

“Reusable cloth face coverings are also available to buy from a wide range of retail outlets, including online.”

“People can make and care for reusable face coverings at home”

Rebecca Pow
Recycling minister, Defra

However, Mrs Pow noted that facemasks, often made from single-use plastics, had played a vital role in reducing transmission of the virus throughout the pandemic. And, she said Defra had not carried out an assessment on the effect of the increase in use of face masks on progress to reduce single-use plastics.

She noted that government guidance on making cloth face coverings is available at:
government guidance on cloth face coverings.


Scottish environmental organisations have also backed reusable face coverings to tackle the “dire effects” caused by single-use face covering litter.

On Tuesday (10 November), Zero Waste Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Marine Conservation Society announced they had joined forces to raise awareness of the issue.

Zero Waste Scotland’s chief executive Iain Gulland said: “It is vital that more people make the switch to reusable face coverings and it becomes a daily habit to take it with you when heading out – as common as remembering house keys or phones.

“If we can avoid the need to pick up a single-use covering at the shops it will mean less litter and fewer problems for local authorities.”

In June the British Fashion Council (BFC) launched a campaign to manufacture and retail “sustainable and reusable non-medical face coverings” across the world (see letsrecycle.com story ).


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