Latvia's waste management companies call for correct disposal of face masks

Single-use facial masks, both in size and weight, still account for a very small part of the total waste, but a big problem is incorrect disposal of them, Latvian Radio reported October 25.

Face masks are not recyclable. Used masks must be wrapped in a bag and discarded in a general waste container.

“A used mask can still be potentially infectious and contain an infectious agent. The Waste Management Law states that waste management must be carried out in such a way that human life and health are not endangered. Therefore, we put these masks in a bag to ensure that this waste will be managed without endangering human life and health,” said Vita Krieviņa, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM).

The Chairman of the ECO Baltia vide waste processing company, Jānis Aizbalts, said that compared to March, people throw fewer masks in recyclable waste containers. But also the total amount of masks in municipal waste, where they should come from, is suspiciously small.

“It looks like people don't wear single-use masks only once,” said Aizbalts.

Board member of the waste recycling company Clean R, Guntars Levics, also said masks are not increasing in number. Rather, they have only now emerged. In the spring and especially before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a very rare type of garbage. However, at the moment the number of masks is small, both in terms of weight and volume. The problem is that people dispose of them incorrectly.

“Part of the population throws masks into recyclable garbage containers. It is not acceptable because this waste is sorted on manual lines. The masks themselves are already potentially infectious and not recyclable.

They are not medical waste, they do not need special treatment or sterilization before discarding. They can simply be thrown in the usual unsorted garbage containers,” said Levics.

Levics, however, is not so sure about the need for wrapping the mask before disposing of it, mentioning the fact that used toothbrushes are not required to be packed specifically either. In addition, sorting municipal waste is automated and there is almost no human presence there. However, VARAM's recommendation is nevertheless to wrap face masks.

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