PPE Disposal Guide | Sustainable disposal for surplus supplies

19 April 2023 by CSG

To help our customers, we have put together a guide for PPE disposal to help you choose the best disposal route for your surplus PPE waste.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, a huge volume of PPE, testing kits and face masks were purchased to help the UK cope with the demand the pandemic put on everyone’s lives. Now, 3 years on, we are seeing a rise in the volumes of unused facemasks and testing kits that have reached their use by date and are now classed as waste.

In this blog, we give advice on safe disposal of face masks and PPE equipment, as well as what can happen when PPE waste is disposed of incorrectly. We will also explore how CSG does it differently when it comes to the disposal of face masks, other PPE and how we can help you.

Disposable Facemasks and the Environment

The most common form of face mask used and purchased during the pandemic were blue coloured ‘procedure’ or surgical masks. These masks are made of non-woven polypropylene, also known as TNT, and melt-blown polypropylene. The reason these masks were so common during the pandemic was because they are cheap to produce and practical. These masks however are not washable – making them ‘single use’ and damaging to the environment.

Disposable face masks might look like paper, but they are not biodegradable and can’t be recycled by traditional means. This is due to the synthetic fabric they are made of leading to used masks ending up in general waste rubbish bins destined for landfill.

From there, they can take between 400 to 450 years to break down, releasing harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil and water. Discarded masks also often end up in waterways, where they can release heavy metals and can be even more damaging to the environment.

Most disposable masks use ear loops made of rubber or similar materials. This can cause problems for wildlife – such as animals or fish becoming entangled. Users are encouraged to remove the ear loops before throwing masks away for this reason.

Covid Test Kits & other PPE

Alongside Face masks, another key defence against COVID was the use of Lateral flow test kits and other PPE (for example gloves). These tests were used in hospitals, businesses, and schools to identify if anyone had COVID-19. This was so they could isolate before infecting others.

The common disposal process is for the waste tests to be put into a bin after use and sent to landfill. These kits contain hazardous materials such as chemicals and plastics, as well as presenting a biohazard risk if used.

Improper disposal of test kits can increase the risk of pathogen exposure for waste management workers who handle the waste. This adds to the challenge of recycling this waste stream. Similar to masks, these test kits have an expiry date and cannot be used after this date. This is due to the shelf life of the buffer solution of around 2 years.

As we are now over three years on since the start of the pandemic, tests from back then will need to be responsibly disposed of. This is to limit the negative effects to the environment. It’s a similar story with other PPE such as latex gloves.

How to Dispose of your own personal Facemasks

If you are looking for advice on the correct disposal process for your own masks, we have included a graphic below to help. As advised by public health England, this is a different process to those with industrial surplus or out of date stock, but we think it’s important to mention:

PPE Disposal

The key takeaway from this is that the waste must be double bagged into two plastic waste bags and labelled if you are sick with COVID. You should also wait 72 hours before putting it into a general waste bin. This will ensure that you dispose of PPE correctly and in a safe manner.

How CSG does it Differently

CSG Recovery offers a disposal service for waste face masks & COVID testing kits in large quantities. For the last 6 months, they have been preparing them for the waste to energy process.

CSG Recovery works with waste to energy recovery centres to dispose of PPE waste and convert the heat generated from incinerating the waste into electricity and heat for homes. This is part of a network that powers around 18 million European homes and heats 15 million people’s homes.

The process begins with the waste being checked, and where necessary, repacked ready to go to a pre-shredding facility. This facility breaks up the face masks and PPE into smaller pieces before being sent for treatment. This happens at an RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) station for the waste to energy process.

The process guarantees that none of the waste goes to landfill. It also ensures that it is treated in the correct way as the waste no longer has a use.

We have our own in-house transport team and can offer a competitive collection service if required. The process will support your business in being more environmentally conscious and grant you an R code (Recovery code) rather than a D code (Disposal code) for your waste disposal. Find out more here.

Should you have any requirements for the waste collection and treatment of facemasks or COVID testing kits then please contact CSG on 0800 011 6600 or send us an enquiry here.