How to throw away used masks responsibly

Children take action against climate change, at World’s Largest Lesson 2020

Patrula de reciclare
How to throw away used masks responsibly
25 November 2020

We know how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted human society, but are we also aware of the toll it took on the environment?

2020 came with a new source of pollution. A certain type of waste has been accumulating in huge quantities, all over the globe.  We see it soiling the streets, parks and forests. It is found floating in seas and oceans, proving that most of it end up in nature, unfortunately.

Pieces of equipment for personal protection such as masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes have been used, this year, by people all over the world, to stay safe from the coronavirus.

If, until now, these items were reserved for the medical industry now they have become products of common use. It is therefore very important for users to know how to discard this equipment responsibly, as to protect their health but, also, to protect the environment.

In 2020, UNICEF’s global initiative in education- The World’s Largest Lesson, challenges teachers and pupils from all participating countries to design action plans tackling climate change. UNICEF Romania proposed a topical issue – the responsible discarding of used face masks and other items for personal protection, a growing new category of waste, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  


Fighting the virus while also fighting pollution

In 2020, compared to 2019, the number of face masks sold worldwide multiplied ….207 times![i]

Unfortunately, the number of used masks landing in nature grew proportionally. This happens because most of these objects are thrown away inadequately – meaning in open trash cans or simply, on the ground. This makes it possible for the very light masks to be taken by the wind and washed by the rain onto rivers, seas and oceans, explaining why used masks were found even on the shore of uninhabited islands!

The used maks and gloves we see on the ground, in almost all communities, are harmful to the environment, but, first and foremost, for people. These items carry a higher risk of contamination with the coronavirus that other kinds of waste.

The children who take part in the World’s Largest Lesson, in Romania, learn the right way to discard used masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and other pieces of equipment for personal protection. Tens of thousands of Romanian children now know that these items are to be collected only in closed containers, to avoid the risk of contamination, for people and the risk of pollution, for the environment. Also, based on the educational materials distributed by UNICEF Romania, teachers guide their teams to create collective action plans. The children aim to raise awareness about the impact of inappropriately discarded EPP on the environment and persuade the members of their communities to collect them responsibly.


Pupils take action to encourage the correct disposal of used masks

The teachers who take part in the World’s Largest Lesson offer their students relevant knowledge and tools to identify ways in which they can fight climate change. They will promote a habit that everyone should adopt as soon as possible:  the careful disposal of masks, gloves and other items for personal protection, only in closed bins.

It is the main way to prevent that they end up in nature or threaten the health of people. Otherwise, this kind of waste will continue to accumulate and add to the other sources of pollution affecting the ecosystem.

Romanian youth would like to no longer see single-use masks lying on the ground, thrown away like common trash and they commit to making a positive change in their communities, in this respect.

Protecting the environment is among the main concerns for the young generation, which informs the choice of climate change as the topic for this year’s World’s Largest Lesson.

As part of the activities dedicated to World Children’s Day, UNICEF is inviting teachers and students in Romania to participate in the "World Largest Lesson". Until November 29, with the help of materials provided by UNICEF, teachers hold an hour of education about the actions we can take against climate change.

The teaching materials for the lesson are available on the platform. By accessing the link teachers can register and download support materials. After the lesson, teachers are asked to upload photos and other resulting materials. At this stage, the certificate of participation will be issued in electronic format.


[i] The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development