Following shortages of certified face masks typically used in the healthcare sector, innovative ways have emerged to combat the issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include increasing production from the original manufacturing sites, commissioning new production facilities locally, decontaminating single-use face masks for reuse, and developing reusable mask alternatives that meet health and safety requirements (EN14683:2019 and EN149:2001). This work presents a cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study that compares selected mask-use options available for the UK healthcare settings. The analysis demonstrates that (1) the reuse options are environmentally preferential to the traditional "use then dispose" approach for surgical and respirator masks; (2) which reuse option has an overall environmental advantage is dependent on the actual lifespan of the masks; (3) both the manufacturing location and the material composition of the masks significantly affect the environmental performance of each mask use option, in particular for single-use alternatives.
LCA Research Fellow,
University College London (UCL), Plastic Waste Innovation Hub
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