Don’t Flush Disposable Masks Down the Toilet

Disposable face masks are an effective way to protect yourself and others during the coronavirus pandemic if you dispose of them correctly. Do not throw a used mask onto the road or sidewalk. (I don’t know about you, but I have seen many little blue masks lying around in public here in Iowa.)

Do not let your used mask hang from an overflowing trash can. If possible, place the mask in a trash can with a fully resealable lid and then wash your hands . (This advice comes from WHO , which recommends storing used masks “in a closed basket”.)

And never, never flush a disposable face mask down the toilet.

As the Associated Press reports, disposable face masks, disposable gloves, and what you might call “toilet paper alternatives,” have littered sewers across the country:

“By washing the wrong things, people are taxing infrastructure that is already deteriorating,” said Darren Olson, vice chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Committee of America. “Your latex glove may not be causing the blockage, but you are only increasing the load.”

Taking a used mask outside is just as bad, firstly, because of health problems, and secondly, because if your mask ends up in a gutter, it could end up in a storm sewer, and from there go down waterway. a network of lakes, tributaries and rivers down to the ocean. I will quote from Fast Company where I first read about our problem of mass mask disposal:

Face masks, gloves and wipes can end up in our bodies of water and lakes if you throw them outside (not to mention the fact that garbage is harmful to the health of the planet anyway), because storm drains at the curbs connect directly to the neighboring body … water.

Since I know you don’t want your discarded face mask to end up in the ocean, here’s what you should do instead:

  • Remove the disposable face mask at home without touching the front of the mask (use the ties on the back to take it off safely). Throw the mask into a trash can with a secure lid, then wash your hands.
  • If you need to remove a disposable mask while away from home, look for a trash can with a secure lid. If not, consider tossing your facemask in a sealed plastic bag (Ziploc style) that you can then carry around until you find a suitable trash can.

While the WHO has not indicated that you need to find a trash can with a secure lid and an internal trash bag, I am going to go ahead and say that it would probably be a good idea to only throw the masks into the trash cans that the bags have in them. The goal is to make sure that no one else comes into contact with your used disposable mask – not family members, not sanitary workers, not sewage treatment teams (and, since we are, no fish).

Cloth masks are also a good idea if possible. Reusable cloth masks are recommended in place of disposable masks to free up disposable materials (which provide better protection) for healthcare workers. An added bonus: Cloth masks are nearly impossible to flush down the toilet.

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