"French MPs recommend more use of washable masks as pollution concerns rise"

(In Euroactiv, 2 February 2021)

"Faced with the boom of single-use masks in France, the country’s National Assembly set up a “flash mission” on the topic and concluded that wearing washable facemasks should be recommended to the public. 

In the space of a few months, the mask has become an essential part of everyday life in France. As millions of French wear one for the day and throw it away at night, it has become quite the environmental scourge, despite being a health ally.

According to the Agency for the diffusion of technological information (Adit), between 6.8 and 13.7 billion single-use masks will have been used in France in 2020.

Since they cannot be recycled, they accumulate – at best in our dustbins, at worst in the oceans. Faced with this new source of pollution, National Assembly lawmakers are calling for increased use of reusable masks for the general public.

Exponential pollution

During the presentation of the conclusions of their flash mission, the two rapporteurs, Danielle Brulebois from President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and Gérard Leseul from the socialist group Soc, shared their concerns regarding the masks that represented a deposit of 40,000 tonnes of non-recycled waste in 2020.

“All stages of the life cycle of masks are sources of pollution,” the rapporteurs noted in their summary.

“Their production requires the extraction of oil; their manufacture and transport have a considerable carbon footprint. When properly collected with household waste, masks end up being incinerated or landfilled, which is no longer acceptable. Unfortunately, they are also thrown on the ground and into the wilderness, where they risk being washed into rainwater systems,” the rapporteurs said.

However, although fines for disposing of masks in the wild have already been increased and can now go up to €135, the issue of recycling waste is far from being resolved.

The most widely used surgical masks consist of a metal nose bridge, elastics, and, above all, the infamous polypropylene plastic. Yet, because they are very light, they risk jamming the machines of today’s sorting lines.

“For the moment, there is no recycling line in France dedicated to single-use masks,” co-rapporteur Danielle Brulebois told EURACTIV France."

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