🔊 Unmasked! How one town solved its rubbish problem

The WoW! News podcast – Face masks keep us safe from COVID-19, but they’ve been a headache for planet Earth – at least until these guys came up with a neat solution!

Enfants avec un masque de protection
Listen below to Alastair & Clarisse talking about masks…

Podcast transcript, Sept. 11

A – Hello and welcome to WoW!, the positive podcast! Showing kids that there’s a lot more to the world news than bad news.

I’m Alastair. As a journalist, I’ve often written about things going wrong. But people also need to know too about what’s going right. 

This week, I’m talking to Clarisse about face masks …


A – Hi Clarisse ! 

C – Hello Alastair !

A – I like your new face mask, Clarisse !

C – Ah thanks, Alastair. I have them in lots of colours – we need to wear them a lot to stop the virus, so I figure I should at least wear a pretty one.

A – Yes, that’s right. In Paris you have to wear a mask, pretty much everywhere, right ? It’s the same here in Brussels – if I’m in the street, I need to wear a mask. In a shop – mask. And at school, teachers and children older than 12 have to wear one all day. Ouf, it’s stuffy ! You’re wearing a cotton mask that you can wash every day, right ?

C – Yes, I do. But lots of people wear masks that they throw away.

A – Absolutely Clarisse. I often use them because I find them a bit lighter…

C – Hm, but it’s not good for the planet though, is it?

A – Well, you’re right Clarisse. That is a problem. If we think that billions of people around the world might be using 2 or 3 masks a day, that’s a lot of rubbish that either gets burned, adding to global warming, or ends up clogging our towns, our countryside or the ocean.

C – So you could use cotton masks, like me…

A – Yes, well I could. I do often. But they do get a bit hot all day. And I’ve been hearing about other ways to stay healthy. I’m looking at getting hold of some light, throwaway masks that are made with hemp – that’s a kind of plant which can be made into cloth, just like cotton or linen. Those hemp masks, rot away and feed your plants if you put them in the ground!

C – Hm. But most people are still throwing away lots of masks that are made with a kind of plastic that doesn’t disappear… 

A – You’re right, Clarisse. We’re seeing more and more pictures of those blasted masks floating in the water or hanging in trees. It’s pretty horrible. But I’ve also got some good news. 

C – Really ? 

A – Absolutely. Thanks to Olivier and Jean-Marc, there’s a town in France where they’re collecting up all their old masks in special bins. 

C – OK – but so what ? They’re still in the garbage…

A –  Ah no, that’s the clever bit. Olivier and Jean-Marc gather up the masks – and they’ve been collecting thousands every day. 

C – Isn’t that dangerous ? Don’t some masks have the virus on them ?

A – Well, they’re very careful ! First, they put the dirty masks in quarantine for four days – so nobody touches them. And then they zap them with strong ultra-violent light that kills off any bugs that might be still lingering…

C – And then people can wear the masks again ? 

A – Ah no ! That wouldn’t be a great idea. What happens then is that the mince all those masks up and turn them into little pellets of plastic. And that plastic is recycled – they make other things out of it.

C – Like what ?

A – Ah well that’s the really neat bit of this story for me. Olivier and Jean-Marc have been using the plastic to make other things that we need to fight COVID. Like hooks for opening doors without touching the handles where the virus lurks. It’s a lovely circular idea !

C – That’s great. So where do we take our old masks?

A – Well for now, you’d have to go to Châtellerault in France, where Jean-Marc and Olivier have their factory. But they’re discussing with people how to expand their idea much further afield. And like all smart ideas, I guess other people will be trying to do similar things.

C – I hope so ! In the meantime, I’m going to keep wearing these beautiful cotton masks that I can wash!

A – You do that, Clarisse. It suits you ! And I’m sure that we won’t have to keep wearing masks for toooo much longer!

C – Let’s hope so ! Thanks for the news, Alastair. See you!

A – See Clarisse! Have a great week.

  – And if you’ve enjoyed hearing about this week’s solution, do tell a friend about WoW! If you’ve got an idea for something you’d like to hear more about, do go to the site and let us know about what you’d like us to look into. Until next week, I’ve been Alastair, and it’s goodbye from me!

Alastair editor of WoW!







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