More than 1600 tonnes of single-use face coverings could spend "hundreds of years" in Scotland’s landfill sites if our habits do not change in the next four months, it has been warned.

Environmental campaigners have come together to condemn research from national recycling company TradeWaste, which revealed that 20,000 tonnes of single-use face masks will end up in landfill by March across the UK, with 1620 of these being dumped in Scotland.

The research has led to claims that the laws on disposable masks need changing to prevent an environmental disaster.

“6.3 billion face masks is the amount the UK will throw in the bin in just four months – if the rules on mask wearing continue throughout 2021, this could top 19.2 billion,” explained Charlotte Green from TradeWaste. “The numbers are absolutely mind blowing.”

READ MORE: Scotland's beaches littered with discarded face masks and gloves as PPE pollution grows

In Scotland, it has been mandatory to wear face coverings in retail, hospitality and public transport since October except in the case of a medical exemption.

However, with many opting to use single-use face coverings, it has lead to fears in Scotland that hundreds of thousands could end up wasting away on our land for hundreds of years.

“We know how many people throw these away. There’s been loads found in oceans across Scotland’s. These things are working their way through the system,” Jonathan Ratcliffe of TradeWaste explained. “When we think about mask use, we’re probably going to be using them for another year or so, and this problem is only going to get worse and worse.

“As more people come out and about as restrictions are lifted, the usage goes up.

“Dependent on the lockdown rules over Christmas, if everyone is suddenly back out and about, what we urgently need to do is sort out our usage.”

With disposable face coverings weighing approximately 3.5g each, data was curated from TradeWaste by predicting how many face masks would be thrown away in the next four months.

Glasgow is expected to see the most amount of face coverings being sent to landfill, with an eyewatering 176 tonnes predicted to be heading to our dumps by March.

Edinburgh is not too far behind, with a predicted 146 tonnes being dumped. Inverness could see 24 tonnes, and Dundee 44.

According to TradeWaste, the main problem with disposable face masks is that currently as they are formed from heated and pressed plastics, they cannot easily be recycled.

The staggering figures come after a major beach clean across Scotland last month found personal protective equipment (PPE) on almost a quarter of beaches.


Campaigners across Scotland have now urged people to move away from all single-use items.

“Single-use disposable masks have become a symbol of global plastic pollution and it’s clear they cause huge environmental problems,” said Sarah Moyes, circular economy and plastics campaigner at Friends of Earth Scotland. “Not only are these plastic masks littering our streets and beaches, but even if they are disposed of properly, they will spend hundreds of years sitting in landfill sites across Scotland before they even begin to breakdown.

“If we are to seriously tackle the plastic crisis, then we must move away from all single-use items, including masks, to reusable products instead.”

Emma Leel, litter and flytipping prevention programme manager at Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Used disposable face coverings cannot be recycled, so they must be placed in the general waste bin.

READ MORE: What you need to know about choosing a face mask

“Choosing a reusable face covering in the first place is a win-win, as it’s better for both purse and planet. It is estimated that people could save around £180 per year by switching to reusable face coverings from single-use for daily use. 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.”

Zero Waste Scotland has launched a campaign to address “the urgent need to protect our streets, coast, countryside and waterways from this type of pollution”.

Campaigners have joined forces with Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Marine Conservation Society, to urge people to switch to reusable face coverings.

Speaking after the Marine Conservation Society’s beach clean in October, conservation officer Catherine Gemmell, said: “So much avoidable plastic waste is still being produced and discarded on Scotland’s shores, eventually ending up in the ocean.

“Wet wipes, cigarette butts and other plastic single-use items remain prolific and are among the most commonly found items this year.

“Scotland is leading the charge in introducing a deposit return scheme but the work is certainly not over.”