green background on mask. For ill people the mask.

Contributed by Safetec

One of the biggest challenges people face when trying to be responsible is understanding what can and can’t be recycled. In the case of most single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), it’s highly advised not to try and recycle your used products. This extends to:

  • Disposal face masks
  • Gloves 
  • Paper towels, tissues and napkins
  • Disinfecting wipes


These pieces of equipment are often flimsy, meaning they tend to clog machinery at recycling plants. What’s more, they also carry the risk of spreading disease – completely negating their original purpose. While that might all sound like doom and gloom, there are alternatives which give you the chance to dispose of single-use items without damaging the environment. For example, programs like the Zero Waste Box have been set up to collect, clean, and then repurpose PPE which would have otherwise found its way to landfills, beaches or been incinerated.

These systems allow gloves, face masks and other forms of safety equipment to be recycled, so long as they are made from materials such as vinyl, latex and nitrile. Fabrics and paper materials cannot be taken (but the former are washable, and therefore reusable).

How to safely dispose of PPE used during COVID-19

If you’ve been using PPE with the express purpose of protecting yourself from COVID-19, there are special ways to dispose of your equipment. With the threat of accidentally spreading the virus a real possibility, be sure to follow this specific set of guidelines to reduce your risk of contaminating yourself, or others:

  • Place any PPE you’ve used in a plastic bag and seal it tightly.
  • Place this bag inside of another bag, and again tie it as tight as possible.
  • Keep this bag in a safe place for up to 72 hours.
  • Send it to your local waste incineration center for disposal.


It’s also important to remember to keep any waste, however well contained, away from children, outside of communal areas and off the streets (in case it’s taken by public waste collectors).

Advice for reducing the amount of PPE wastage

While wearing PPE is a must in a lot of situations during the pandemic, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be sensible with your usage. Keep these tips in mind if you’re thinking about trying to reduce the amount of PPE you’re throwing away:

Avoid single-use as much as possible

By reducing the amount of single-use PPE items you’re utilizing every day, you’ll instantly go a long way towards being more sustainable. While this can’t be avoided with the likes of wipes and towels, you will be able to buy more industrial masks and gloves which can be washed and then used again.

Buy in bulk

For things like sanitizer and paper towels, it sometimes makes sense to buy your items in bulk. This allows you to reduce the amount of smaller plastic containers you need, while potentially also saving you a little money in the process. It’s win-win.

Always check recycling options first

Before you buy anything, be sure to check and see if the item in question is able to be recycled. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid a purchase, it’s something which might have a big influence on your eventual decision.

Approach all aspects of life more sustainably

By taking a more wide scale approach to sustainability in all areas of your life, you’ll make it easier to think about using PPE in a more efficient way.

If you follow these steps you’ll have a significantly lower impact on the levels of plastic waste being pumped into the environment.