Recycling Masks: Yes, It Can Be Done

Discarded “single-use” face masks are not only hazardous to animal life but because of their plastic makeup, don’t easily break down in the environment. If littered, masks turn into microplastics and pose an additional set of problems and we’ve all seen them – tossed on the ground, in stairwells and waterways once their usefulness has run its course. Even if disposed of in the garbage, masks take up landfill space and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, compounding the release of emissions, and negatively impacting human health.

Several studies have been conducted as an investigative means into ways discarded facemasks can be utilized. Xianming Shi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Washington State University, co-authored one such study. In an interview with Changing America, Shi said, “Oftentimes, waste is just misplaced resources” and added that upcycling these materials can help unlock their potential.

In lab experiments, Shi and colleagues pretreated microfibers from face masks in a novel nano-material graphene oxide solution. After testing the final product for durability and strength, Shi says the mixture actually benefited the concrete. In fact, the concrete’s resistance to damage was improved by 20 percent after the graphene oxide material was incorporated. An additional study found that PPE waste, including facemasks, showed the materials could be used to create white LEDs. Scientists also discovered that treated facemask chips in granular soil used in backfill, railways, and construction make for a suitable ingredient.

So, how can you safely get rid of your used face masks without polluting the environment while unlocking their potential for other usages?

TerraCycle accepts PPE through a paid PPE Zero Waste Box, which ensures your used masks won’t add to an impending ecological disaster. Once you can fill a box with face masks, visors, disposable gloves, earplugs hair nets, safety glasses, or disposable garments, you’ll send it back to the company with a prepaid shipping label.

Reclaim The Mask is a recycling initiative that works with various individuals, businesses, and volunteer groups to divert masks from landfill which are then repurposed. Green Circle Salons’ PPE Recovery Initiative partners with businesses, such as eco-minded salons and spas, to collect masks, gloves, wipes, and paper towels. They are recycled into clean renewable energy for homes and businesses, and the ash that comes from the process is then added to asphalt and building materials. Companies just have to pay $85 for a box, so they can collect PPE items from staff and customers.

Previously, VIDA only accepted VIDA brand masks but in April 2022, they expanded their free Mask Recycling Program to accept any brand of disposable face masks including KN95, N95, and surgical masks, as well as filters. Cloth or homemade masks are not accepted, and neither is medical waste. To participate, just pack all of your old masks into a box or mailing envelope, request a free shipping label on VIDA’s website, and mail them in. From there, VIDA will recycle your masks and ensure they stay out of landfills and away from wildlife.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo by Karolina Grabowska (


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