Consumption & ProductionZero Waste Italy

Keeping large numbers of people safe with circular masks – the story of Eta Beta


30 Nov 2020

Written by

Ana Oliveira


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a global arms race for personal protective equipment (PPE) as governments scramble to protect frontline workers. But while no-one disputes the current urgency, we are more and more concerned this could worsen another epidemic: plastic pollution.

The UN estimates that 13 million tons of plastic are dumped in the sea each year and that half of the plastic produced globally is for single-use items. According to data provided by the Break Free From Plastic movement, the consumption of a single-use mask a day for a year would mean the generation of three billion masks per year globally. Italy alone, during its lifting of lockdown phase, needed about 1 billion masks and half a billion gloves per month, according to estimates from the Polytechnic of Turin.

But what if one could benefit from a third party laundry system for reusable masks, duly certified for health and safety

We have good news for you: the Bologna-based social cooperative Eta Beta has developed and tested a system that does exactly that! 

In cooperation with Zero Waste Italy, Eta Beta committed to certifying an innovative project that safeguards the health of anyone wearing the mask and reduces the production of disposable and non-recyclable waste.

While born during the COVID-19 crisis, the idea for this reusable mask system was based on Eta Beta’s previous laundry system for reusable nappies, which proved to be a success among nurseries in the Bologna region. The procedure and the equipment needed are the same for both systems, with small adjustments made according to user demands and needs.  

Eta Beta’s scheme foresees all types of DM masks (Medical Devices), including  FFP2/3 category ones used by health professionals and in medical/hospital settings.

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Tried-and-tested and certified reusable mask systems, like the one developed by Eta Beta, can be used to mitigate the over-reliance on disposable masks by organisations dealing with a large number of visitors or staff – such as schools, governmental and supranational institutions, and even hospitals. 

Eta Beta’s laundry system for reusable masks is already in operation and washing for two companies of around 800 employees each in Bologna. Yet, for zero waste business models such as Eta Beta’s to be scaled up and replicated, public intervention is needed. This means putting in place waste prevention measures and economic incentives for these circular systems to overcome the barriers to enter the EU market, which is currently flooded with linear systems and wasteful products.

Help us turn reusable masks systems into a widespread reality – contact [email protected] to:

  • Learn more about this system
  • Replicate this system in your town or organisation
  • Check other ways of getting involved

Join the fight towards a plastic-free world:

Zero Waste Europe fully acknowledges the severity of COVID-19. The health and safety of all individuals during this challenging time is of utmost importance, and we stand in solidarity with all the communities affected by the COVID-19 health crisis.

Learn more in our FAQ on COVID-19 and zero waste.