By Mohammed Al-Bahar
KUWAIT: It is disheartening to see how people dispose their used facemasks without any concern for people around them or the environment. It is important to dispose used masks and gloves safely. This will help contain the community spread of COVID-19 or other communicable diseases. It also helps protect cleaning and recycling workers.
The idea was to address this issue, and our initiative came after watching people dispose their masks carelessly. With the support of a few of my friends, we initiated the project in 2020 during the peak days of the COVID-19 pandemic, after realizing that used masks thrown here and there could cause serious health hazards and environmental pollution.
What I did was create boxes for people to dispose their used facemasks, which in return would get recycled into new masks. This was the basic idea of the initiative. As months went by, I started to add innovative ideas to the project. We started to create slippers and small plant bags to use in nature reserves. Initially, we started our project small by placing the boxes at co-ops. As we expanded our project, we got our boxes placed at schools, universities, dental clinics, etc. By collecting and recycling thousands of facemasks nationally, we hope that the effects of our work would be positive, in accordance with our mission.
We contacted many locations and received approval from eight locations in Kuwait to place our recycling boxes. It was a difficult task as many in group and the others were worried about possible contamination. But we were lucky to convince them as we moved ahead with the project. We have collected and recycled approximately 12,000-15,000 masks since 2020 to date. The initiative has not stopped and our next step is to move to hospitals and other public places where masks are worn on a compulsory basis, such as chemical manufacturers.
It was a stamp of approval for our initiative when our project was recognized and supported by the Environmental Public Authority (EPA) in Kuwait. We had several meetings with EPA officials to discuss the issue of sustainability, and they awarded ‘Unmask’ with an appreciation letter for the positive work done towards recycling and helping the environment.
Used masks were recycled into new products used at home, such as plastics, plant bags, slippers, etc. Although the project was initiated as an experiment, it became successful and worked. Plant growth bags were developed and used by the Al-Shamiya Nature Reserve. Currently, I am in charge of four volunteers within the team. As a mask recycling initiative, we also participated in the first ‘Sustainable Living Event’ organized by the NGO Sustainable Living Kuwait.