New Sustainability Initiative to Reduce Barriers to Facemask Recycling

With changes to mask mandates pending, a new free recycling initiative designed to prevent PPE from entering the waste stream and marine environment has launched to help address barriers to the recycling of used facemasks.

The initiative is believed to be the first manufacture-to-end of life recycling programme for masks in New Zealand. 

An estimated three million facemasks are used globally each minute with 129 billion masks entering the waste stream every month. The majority of disposable facemasks used in New Zealand are made from polypropylene, a form of plastic known as #5 in the recycling scheme. Despite increasing demand from NZ manufacturers, recycled polypropylene is still being sent offshore or to local landfills. 

Under the initiative, households and businesses can request a free postage-paid courier bag to be delivered to them, which they can then fill with used facemasks of any brand or material. At no cost, a courier will collect their masks and send them to an Auckland facility where they will be quarantined before being manually sorted into recycling categories. 

Any disposable masks made from polypropylene will be upcycled into BioGro certified fence posts for the domestic and export markets, while fabric masks which use natural filters made from wool and other cloth materials will be disassembled to support composting of their components in a separate programme.

The scheme is run by the country’s largest mask manufacturer and exporter, MEO and it is hoped to remove the cost and logistical barriers preventing consumers from recycling their masks.

The new programme will cost MEO around $50,000 annually.

MEO co-founder, Kenneth Leong said that while the first stage of the initiative will support door-to-door collection, they want to expand the programme to include physical collection points. MEO is currently looking for national retail partners with brick-and-mortar presence who can help to meet the needs of this segment of the market.

“By making it easier and removing cost barriers for consumers, we can make recycling your mask just as convenient as putting your milk container out at the gate.”

The free recycling collection initiative can be accessed anywhere in New Zealand and is open to consumers and businesses.

Free postage-paid courier bags to support the return of end-of-life facemasks can be requested via