Single-use face masks and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments

Single-use face masks and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments

Published: March 2022

Read the Key Messages blog post for this publication.

This new study by UNEP and the Life Cycle Initiative, reviews five scientific Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) on face-masks to draw conclusions on which among the available alternatives, single-use or reusable, have the lowest environmental impacts, along their life cycle – from extraction of raw materials, to their end of life.

The report finds that reusable masks (particularly if made from synthetic materials) are less damaging for the environment than single-use face masks, and reusable cotton masks, if used responsibly and economically.

To identify which type of face masks are environmentally preferred; the study considers the following factors:

  • Number of reuses and washing practices (which are key to minimize environmental impacts)
  • Materials used
  • Guidelines and standards on how to use masks
  • Location of production vs. point of sale (transport)
  • End-of-life disposal
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