Here’s what to do with your cloth mask collection now that government mandates are changing

Despite growing awareness of the problem, textile waste is a huge problem in Australia, with each Australian contributing an average of 23 kilograms a year to landfill according to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Some organisations, such as the Australasian Circular Textile Association, believe this to be a serious underestimate.

While there have been shifts in messaging throughout the pandemic around which mask is best, it’s safe to say that most of us have a collection of cloth face masks that we won’t need. no need so regularly in the future now that state mask mandates are changing.

So what to do with our excess fabric masks to prevent them from ending up in landfill? We’ve found five ways to minimize your mask’s impact on the environment amid Australia’s great textile waste crisis.

Donate to a textile recycling program

While you can’t just drop off textiles with regular recycling, there are a few ways to keep your cloth masks out of the landfill. Melbourne company Upparel transforms old clothes, bed linens, draperies and, yes, fabric and neoprene masks into tiles, office partitions and stuffing for pet beds. You can organize a box (so maybe collect unwanted cloth masks from colleagues, friends and family) to choose from across Australia from $25, which you can then redeem for their funky recycled cotton socks .

You can also donate your clean fabric masks to Zara and H&M, which collect unwanted textiles and send them to partner factories to recycle into new clothing or turn them into industrial products like insulation.

Add your cloth masks to the compost

Most sheet masks are made from cotton, bamboo, hemp, silk, and linen, which means they can be added to your regular compost. Simply remove non-biodegradable pieces like labels or elastic straps before shredding them into small pieces to make the process easier. The worms, insects and microorganisms in your compost will love the addition of some good old natural fiber.

Donate or reuse

If you’ve decided you don’t need to keep all of your cloth masks in use, save them to use as rags for household chores like metal or shoe shine. You can also ask local wildlife or animal sanctuaries if they can take them to crates and kennels, or see if groups or crafting classes could turn them into a patchwork creation.

Keep a few

It’s safe to say that face masks are part of the new normal, so be sure to keep a couple on hand for travel or when you’re next unwell. Remember that masks aren’t just for keeping you safe, they’re for being respectful of those around you and have been cultural norms in other countries for decades.

Dispose of your masks responsibly

If you decide to throw away your masks (cloth or disposable), be sure to cut the strips. Although they will most likely reach the landfill, there is always the possibility of wild animals encountering them and becoming entangled.

Want to know more about how to live a little more sustainably and avoid sending textiles to landfill? Check out our guide on what to do with your unloved bras here.

Image credit: Upparel

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