Published by BBC NEWS - 14th February 2022

A member of staff wearing PPE walks through a ward for Covid patients at King"s College Hospital, in south east London

Image source, PA Media

Medical face masks could be turned into curtains or bedsheets, the government has said as it tries to tackle pandemic-related PPE plastic waste.

Health minister Edward Argar said the Department of Health and Social Care was also considering how to recycle materials in Covid test kits.

A study published last year found 8 million tonnes of pandemic plastic waste had been generated worldwide.

The government has written off £8.7bn spent on PPE during the pandemic.

It has also been criticised for some deals which saw equipment bought which was found to be faulty or unsuitable for use in the NHS.

In response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney, Mr Argar said the government was looking at ways of recycling face masks and other personal protective equipment.

“We are reviewing the potential of reusable Type IIR [medical grade] masks in acute settings, using existing laundry services to reduce the need for single-use products,” he said.

These types of masks would be “recycled into curtains, mattress covers or other products”, the minister said.

“We plan to pilot reusable eye protection where the product can be recycled at the end of its life. We have recycled 22 million visors to make plastic containers, which can be used to store food items and will also be recyclable.”

He added that NHS Test and Trace was “exploring alternatives to current test devices” which would be “safe, effective and made of predominantly recyclable or biodegradable materials”.

Ms Olney welcomed the announcement saying that many of her constituents had raised concerns at the volume of plastic in test kits and disposable masks.

A study carried out by Nanjing University, published online by the journal PNAS in November 2021, found that of the 8 million tonnes of pandemic-associated plastic waste generated globally more than 25,000 tonnes had made its way into the ocean.

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