Breathing new life into face masks

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks have been used as a way to protect the community from COVID. Now, thanks to a new recycling initiative, they are also being used to protect the environment.

Mask specific recycling bins have been installed all around the Westmead Health and Innovation Precinct, including around The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, as part of a new pilot project to turn disposable face masks into useful recycled materials.


The “Up-Masking” project is an initiative of the Greater Cities Commission (GCC) and the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SmaRT) Centre in partnership with Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network and Western Sydney Local Health District and has been designed to demonstrate remanufacturing and decarbonisation potential from personal protective equipment before it turns into waste.

Currently, through the use of pioneering technologies at UNSW’s SMaRT Centre, teams have been able to use recycled face masks to create antimicrobial tiles.  

Bart Cavalletto, Director of Strategy and Innovation at SCHN, says the “Up-Masking” project is a way to give face masks a second life and has opened up so many possibilities for creating new, useable products moving forward.

“The exciting thing is the potential of what we can do in the future with recycled face masks,” Bart said.

“Rather than these face masks just going to landfill, we will hopefully soon be able to create bowls, trays and so many other things for use in hospitals and the best part is they be recycled time and time again.”

Face masks can take hundreds of years to break down – threatening wildlife, littering beaches and polluting the food chain. This project is hoped to be a way to contribute to lessening this environmental impact and creating a more sustainable future.

“Our Network’s purpose is to help children live their healthiest of lives. We want to ensure that children now and in the future, grow up in a world where they can enjoy good health and wellbeing,” Bart said.


“This project really helps to support that purpose and allows us to look at different ways to recycle PPE and potentially other waste. It will help change the way we work and will help stop vast amounts of waste going to landfills, and into the ocean.”

Mask recycling bins are currently placed at all main exits at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and will remain until the end of the pilot project in mid-August.