‘National scheme needed’ in France to recycle tonnes of masks

Zéro Waste France head Juliette Franquet said if people were 'throwing out two masks a day, that meant 400 tonnes of waste a day'

23 June 2021

Local recycling projects are working well in France but calls are growing for a national scheme Pic: David Aughenbaugh / Shutterstock

Local recycling initiatives are being set up to deal with a potential 400 tonnes of disposable Covid masks being thrown out every day.

These local projects are working well but calls are growing for a national scheme.

In Meudon, Hauts-de-Seine, 25 collection boxes in council offices have gathered 70,000 masks since the start of the year.

Now the scheme, with Plaxtel recycling firm, is being taken up by other councils in Ile-de- France but it is still small-scale.

Zéro Waste France head Juliette Franquet said if people were “throwing out two masks a day, that meant 400 tonnes of waste a day”. It is not being taken seriously enough when there is a need for a national recycling effort.

Surgical masks, weighing just 4g, are 90% polypropylene and this is fully recyclable.

Recycling giant Suez and La Poste’s Recygo subsidiary collect waste from offices round France. Recygo boss Corinne Sieminski said: “Masks are a small part of this. It is mostly paper, 80%, although we have still collected 1.5million masks.

“They are picked up by the group Versoo and containers are hygiene-isolated for a month before recycling at their Angers site. They take off the elastic, take out the metal clip and the remainder is made into pellets for reuse. It is a niche business and margins are tight.” The aim is to recycle five million masks this year.

In Paris, the giant AP-HP hospitals group throws out 130,000 masks a day and has started tests of a recycling system that it hopes would be the basis of a wider-scale project.

The six-month test in three of its 39 hospitals will collect surgical masks – contaminated ones from Covid wards and FFP2 masks are not recycled – and costs will be examined.

AP-HP estimates that recycling one tonne of masks would prevent 1.8tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere.

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