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      The impact and effectiveness of the general public wearing masks to reduce the spread of pandemics in the UK: a multidisciplinary comparison of single-use masks versus reusable face masks.

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            Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has mandated the use of face masks in various public settings and recommends the use of reusable masks to combat shortages of medically graded single-use masks in healthcare. To assist decision-making on the choice of masks for future pandemics, where shortages may not be a contributing factor, the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub has carried out a multidisciplinary comparison between single-use and reusable masks based on their anatomy, standalone effectiveness, behavioural considerations, environmental impacts and costs. Although current single-use masks have a higher standalone effectiveness against bacteria and viruses, studies show that reusable masks have adequate performance in slowing infection rates of respiratory viruses. Material Flow Analysis, Life Cycle Assessment and cost comparison show that reusable masks have a lower environmental and economic impact than single-use masks. If every person in the UK uses one single-use mask each day for a year, it will create a total waste of 124,000 tonnes, 66,000 tonnes of which would be unrecyclable contaminated plastic waste. Using reusable masks creates >85% less waste, generates 3.5 times lower impact on climate change and incurs 3.7 times lower costs. Further behavioural research is necessary to understand the extent and current practices of mask use, and its effectiveness in reducing infection rates. Wearing single-use masks may be preferred over reusable masks due to perceptions of increased hygiene and convenience. Understanding behaviour towards the regular machine-washing of reusable masks for their effective reuse is key to maximise their public health benefits and minimise environmental and economic costs.


            Author and article information

            UCL Open: Environment Preprint
            UCL Press
            29 October 2020
            [1 ] UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, University College London, London, UK
            Author information

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            : 1 May 2020
            UKRI/EPSRC EP/S024883/1

            All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article (and its supplementary information files).
            Environmental management, Policy & Planning
            PPE,Disposable,Reusable,face mask,LCA,MFA,Surgical mask,Sustainability,Systems modelling,Environmental policy and practice


            Date: 16 June 2021

            Handling Editor: Dan Osborn

            Editorial decision: Request revision. The Handling Editor requested revisions; the article has been returned to the authors to make this revision.

            Additional comments from the editor:

            • The paper addresses a rage of topical issues relevant to the pandemic connected to mask wearing and is thus of global interest.
            • The paper has been substantially modified in response to the first set of reviewer comments and revision request.
            • The received review of this revised paper is very favourable in its general assessment and points to a number of minor improvements that the authors could make of which the point about Ireland is perhaps the most important. Making these small corrections will smooth the editorial process to full publication.
            2021-06-22 09:34 UTC

            Decision date: 2/11/2020

            Handling Editor: Dan Osborn

            This article is a preprint article and has not been peer-reviewed. It is under consideration following submission to UCL Open: Environment Preprint for open peer review.

            2020-11-10 11:23 UTC

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