Determinants of proper disposal of single-use masks: knowledge, perception, behavior, and intervention measures

PeerJ. 2023 Apr 6:11:e15104. doi: 10.7717/peerj.15104. eCollection 2023.


Background: Although many studies testify to consumer behavior's role in the context of waste-related sustainability objectives, little research examined what people know, think, and feel about the environmental impacts of their personal protective equipment (PPE) or their behavior towards them, in general. Therefore, the present article complements existing information about the public perceptions, knowledge, and behavior of single-use masks in a context where the pandemic has put increasing pressure on waste management public services. From February to June 2020, municipal solid waste increased ten times in Romania. The study identified the factors that predicted the proper disposal of single-use masks and the measures preferred to prevent or minimize the negative impact of single-use mask waste.

Method: Data from a representative sample of 705 Romanians were collected using a structured questionnaire. The data were analyzed with SPSS and SmartPLS. The Cochran's Q test was run to determine the existence of differences between percentages of people who preferred various measures. Dunn's test with a Bonferroni correction was used to identify the exact pair of groups where the differences were located. The study utilized structural equation models (SEM) based on at least partial squares with SmartPLS software (3.2.8) to investigate causal links between constructs. The model considered that the dependent variable (environmentally friendly behavior: proper disposal of single-use masks) could be influenced by the knowledge, perception, behavior, and demographics variables.

Results: The findings indicated that knowledge of the type of material of single-use masks had a direct positive (β = 0.173) and significant effect on their proper disposal. The perception of mask waste impact has a negative and significant (β = -0.153, p < 0.001) impact on the proper disposal of single-use masks. This path coefficient illustrates that the worse the perceived impact of single-use masks on waste management activity, the higher the proper disposal of single-use masks. Gender has a positive (β = 0.115) and significant (p < 0.001) effect on the proper disposal of single-use masks.

Conclusions: It was concluded that the 5Rs waste management approach should be reconsidered for single-use mask waste. For example, "Reuse" and the classic "Recycle" have limited applications since they may lead to virus transmission and possible infection. "Reducing" the use of single-use masks could have repercussions on one's health. Summing up, the study outlined recommendations for effective interventions for the proper disposal of single-use masks from the perspective of behavioral studies.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; Disposal; Pro-environmental behavior; Single-use mask; Waste.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Waste Management*

Grants and funding

The APC for this article was partially paid from a Seed grant 2022 (recipient Dacinia Crina Petrescu) awarded by Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.