Between Environmental Concerns and Compliance: How Does Media Messaging Affect Motivation and Choice Between Disposable Versus Reusable Facemasks, 2021-2022

Abrams, Nathan and Auge, Anais and Tenbrink, Thora and Nowakowski, Maciej (2023). Between Environmental Concerns and Compliance: How Does Media Messaging Affect Motivation and Choice Between Disposable Versus Reusable Facemasks, 2021-2022. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-856138

Single-use masks are causing increasing waste as these are disposed of in the environment. Single-use masks contain heavy metals and plastics which, once disposed of in the environment, may contaminate natural resources and citizens through food consumption. This waste is a significant threat to human health paired with the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens thus need to be better informed about the risks so that the waste can be limited. We look to improve media representations as these can encourage such practices. We analysed representations of masks in a wide range of media contents to decide how messages can be improved so that these effectively address the environmental impact of single-use masks. This is accompanied by a series of semi-structured interviews to show participants' views on masks and their reliance on media. The findings explore in particular the differences in certain target demographics (namely by age) in terms of the kind of mediums that they trust, or even utilise in their everyday life. This in turn suggests the particular role of media producers across a range of mediums, as well as policymakers and stakeholders, in how and where to address the public on recommended mask use.

Data description (abstract)

Facemasks were a crucial part of the UK strategy to contain and mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. While disposable facemasks present a convenient, low-cost solution, they carry greater associated environmental costs than reusable masks which are less likely to be discarded but require higher financial outlay. Although clearly central, the influence of media messaging – positive or negative - in determining people’s mask-wearing choices is unknown, despite the considerable medical and environmental implications. These interviews sought to explore the complex factors underpinning consumer choice of masks and the adoption or rejection of facemask-wearing, including the responsible disposal of masks, to evaluate constructive and destructive messaging around (a) mask-wearing and motivation, and (b) sustainable choices within the facemask wearing arena. There were three components: 1. Assessing the influence and effectiveness of media messaging around wearing facemasks to date 2. Examining the ways in which more effective media messaging can be developed to respond to rising rates of infection as well as potential long-term facemask use in the post-Covid era 3. Examining how the wearing of facemasks can be encouraged in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner to prevent short, medium and long-term collateral environmental harm, in alignment with the UK’s obligations under international human rights and environmental laws. The overarching aim of this project was, then, to better understand current facemask-wearing behaviour as influenced by the media to improve uptake and enhance the effectiveness of media campaigns for the future, explicitly considering environmental issues.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Abrams Nathan Bangor University
Auge Anais Bangor University
Tenbrink Thora Bangor University
Nowakowski Maciej Bangor University
Sponsors: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Grant reference: AH/W003813/1
Topic classification: Media, communication and language
Project title: Between environmental concerns and compliance: How does media messaging affect motivation and choice between disposable versus reusable facemasks?
Grant holders: Nathan Abrams, Louise Hassan, Hayley Roberts, Morwenna Spear, Thora Tenbrink, Simon Willcock
Date published: 19 Apr 2023 14:12
Last modified: 19 Apr 2023 14:15

Available Files




data downloads and page views since this item was published

View more statistics


Edit item (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item