Five months into almost universal mask wearing in Hong Kong and it’s clear that the face coverings are not going away any time soon. We’ve adapted well – we’ve got a ready supply, the prices have dropped, and there are now plenty of fashionable alternatives to surgical masks – but there are still people who haven’t got the message about how to dispose of their mask safely. Hiking trails, beaches and pavements are littered with used surgical masks . The offenders are worse than your standard issue litter bug – their actions constitute a health risk. Masks are hazardous waste. The virus can live for hours – even days – on a mask. So, if someone picks up a mask – likely a cleaner, perhaps a child – and then touches their face, they risk infection. Local guidelines advise that used masks – and other personal protective equipment (PPE) – must be disposed of in a lidded bin. And once you’ve done that wash your hands. The health risk aside, the careless discarding of masks also poses an environmental threat. OceansAsia reports that single-use masks are washing up on coastlines around the world. In Hong Kong’s remote Soko Islands, the NGO found masks caught in ghost nets. Worse still, the masks move in the water much like jellyfish, which means turtles, dolphins and finless porpoises risk choking on them. With gyms closed and a renewed focus on health, many people are hitting the hiking trails – but that needn’t result in a confetti trail of blue plastic. That’s right – surgical masks may feel like they are made of cloth, but they are usually manufactured using non-woven fabrics made from plastics. A sobering thought when you consider how just last year we were making a meal out of ditching plastic straws . We are burning through about six million surgical masks a day in Hong Kong alone – that’s well over a billion masks since the start of the pandemic. Given that a single face mask will take hundreds of years to break down, we need to make sure we are disposing of them correctly – not only to prevent the spread of the virus but to reduce plastic pollution.