Eco-friendly alternatives to disposable face masks

Last updated: 4 December 2020

Disposable face masks are becoming an environmental issue. It’s estimated around 75% of used disposable face masks will end up in landfills or in the ocean, according to the World Economic Forum.

Now that the Victorian Government has mandated wearing face coverings in public, many Victorians are choosing cloth masks and other reusable face coverings.

Correct disposal of single-use face masks

Disposable face masks and surgical masks are not recyclable. Once used, put them in the rubbish bin.

Cut the ear loops with scissors before putting in the rubbish bin to prevent entangling wildlife.

If you or someone from your household may have coronavirus (COVID-19), put disposable items in a sealed plastic or paper bag, and then in your bin.

Any recyclables that may have been used by someone with coronavirus (COVID-19) need to go in the rubbish bin as well.

Wash your hands straight after handling any items that may have been contaminated. Also wash your hands after touching your rubbish bin.

View EPA’s advice for safely disposing of waste.

Alternatives to disposable face masks

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) advises that face coverings don’t need to be surgical quality to be effective.

The most environmentally-friendly option is a reusable cloth mask. Although, any mask is better than no mask.

You should always wash your reusable cloth mask after each time you use it.

Visit the Department of Health and Human Services website for information about face masks including:

  • how to make a reusable cloth mask
  • when to wash a cloth mask
  • how to wash a cloth mask
  • how to wear a face covering correctly
  • when you need to wear a face covering.

Read the Department of Health and Human Services advice on face coverings.

The Department of Health and Human Services is distributing free reusable cloth masks to agencies that support vulnerable Victorians.

Find out more about the Victorian Government distributing free reusable cloth masks.

Reusable cloth masks

What you need to know

A reusable cloth mask should:

  • fit securely around your face
  • cover your nose and mouth
  • be made from washable fabric with three layers.

It’s good to have a few because they have to be washed after every use and must be completely dry before reuse.

Make your own

If you have old clothing or left over material lying around your home, use it to make a reusable cloth mask.

View the Department of Health and Human Services guide to making a cloth mask.

Buy local

There are plenty of brands that sell reusable cloth masks. We recommend buying from local and independent businesses that source materials sustainably.

View Ethical Clothing Australia’s list of ethical reusable cloth masks.

Other ways to live sustainably