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5 creative ways to upcycle face masks

Used and properly washed face masks can be repurposed and stitched into flower pot covers (in white). Photos: Choong Lay Khuan

Face masks are vital in our fight against Covid-19, but discarded masks are becoming a huge environmental problem.

Penang retired teacher and sewing enthusiast Choong Lay Khuan, 66, is concerned that millions of single-use face masks are being discarded daily in our country.

"It aches me to see used face masks disposed of in the streets. They are also littered in rivers and pose a major threat to animals and marine life," said Choong over a phone interview recently.

Face masks were made compulsory in public places in Malaysia since last August as part of the standard operating procedures to curb Covid-19.

Waste experts have estimated that at least 10 million single-use face masks are discarded daily in the country. Most disposable face masks are generally manufactured using polymers such as polypropylene and polyester, which takes hundreds of years to break down.

Studies have shown that single-use face masks that get to the environment (dumpsites, freshwater bodies, oceans or public spaces) could emerge as a new source of microplastic fibres.

Various organisations and individuals have been doing their part to help address this issue.

A French company called Plaxtil has been recycling face masks and turning them into eco-friendly plastic.

Choong washes and sun-dries the used face masks before transforming them into things like aprons and grocery bags.

Last December, a South Korean furniture design student made the news when he created climate-friendly plastic stools made from over 10,000 used face masks.

In the past five months, Choong has been upcycling face masks and repurposing them into things like grocery bags, flower pot holders and hair ties.

"I want to contribute my part by using our family's used masks. The masks are washed and dried in the sun before being sewn into other things. This way, I am helping to lessen the thrash around my neighbourhood," said the grandmother of three.

Here, Choong shares five household items and accessories you can make using upcycled face masks. All you need are simple sewing tools like scissors, chalk and measuring tape, needle and thread. And don't forget to wash your face masks before starting the projects.


1. Hair tie and shoelaces

Remove the elastic ear loops from the face mask. They can be reused as hair ties, twill cord, shoelaces or garters for clothing.

2. Shopping bag

Make a simple grocery bag by piecing together several face masks. If the bag is to be used for heavy groceries, it is advisable to have a second set of stitches for reinforcement.

3. Flower pot cover

Pieces of used face masks can be cut and stitched together to make flower pot covers. To spruce it up, add some embellishments or embroidery designs.

4. Drawstring bag

These trendy bags are popular among people of various age groups. You can stitch a small drawstring bag using one face mask. Your hand-stitched bag will be a conversation piece among eco-warriors.

5. Apron

Who would have thought that face masks can be transformed into a simple kitchen apron? Keep aside about 15 to 20 pieces for this project. For patterns, check out social media platforms like YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

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