Reusable Masks: Protect Others, and Protect the Environment

As of August 5th, masks are mandatory in common areas of Toronto apartment buildings and condos. By using a reusable cloth mask, you’ll be protecting yourself and others while reducing the amount of disposable PPE that ends up in our landfills or in the environment. Check out our tips and resources on reusable face masks. 

People that live in multi-residential buildings - which is more than half of Toronto households -  are wearing masks even more frequently 'at home' in common areas of buildings. Residents now wear masks for daily tasks like running the recycling downstairs, picking up the mail and waiting for the elevator. 

All of these masks start to add up - and add to the plastic pollution problem. By choosing to use a reusable cloth mask, you’ll be protecting yourself and others while reducing the amount of disposable masks that end up in our landfills or environment. 

We put together some resources to help give you the information you need to know, including what to look for in a mask, some simple DIY mask resources, and the most recent public health information. 

The basics of reusable masks 

Reusable masks are encouraged by Public Health Canada as, “wearing a homemade non-medical mask/facial covering in the community is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings.” 

In Toronto, masks are required in indoor public spaces, and now, masks are also required for anyone entering enclosed common spaces in apartment buildings and condos, such as lobbies, elevators, waste rooms, and laundry rooms.

We need to wear masks to protect ourselves and each other. For the latest information on cloth masks and reducing spread of COVID-19, visit Toronto Public Health’s website

When buying or making cloth masks, follow these guidelines from Toronto Public Health:

  • It should have at least two layers of tightly woven cotton or linen.
  • Make sure the mask covers your nose, mouth and chin, and is breathable.
  • It should fit securely around your head with ties or ear loops.
  • Make sure the mask maintains its shape after being washed and dried.
  • Try to avoid non-breathable materials such as plastic.

Disposable masks and plastic pollution

Unfortunately, disposable masks and gloves are showing up everywhere - parks and streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Building maintenance staff at a number of high-rise buildings in Toronto Environmental Alliance’s Zero Waste High-Rise Project have reported finding disposable masks and gloves littered throughout littering the property, or improperly placed in the recycling or organics bins. 

Researchers are also finding that masks and disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) are contributing to pollution in our waterways and oceans. On the way there, they also end up clogging drains, sewers and other essential infrastructure. 

This pollution concern is made worse by the fact that most disposable PPE is made of plastic. Although many disposable masks may look like they’re made of paper or natural fibres, they are actually made of synthetic polymers that will remain in our environment and take centuries to break-down. 

If you live in a multi-residential building, you might require more masks, as you’ll need to wear a mask whenever you access common areas such as hallways or a waste room. Here are some great tutorials about making really easy masks with what you may already have at home. 

Make Your Own Mask: CDC Reusable Mask Instructions (sewing required) 

This step by step graphic shows us how easy it is to use a t-shirt to make a mask at home. Click here for the full tutorial.

Make Your Own Mask: CDC Reusable Mask DIY Instructions (no sew) 

This step by step graphic shows us how easy it is to use a t-shirt or bandanna to make a mask at home without any sewing. Click here for the full tutorial.

How to care for your reusable mask 

  • Make sure to wash your hands before putting on and taking off your mask.
  • Avoid touching your face and mask.
  • Change your mask as soon as it gets damp or dirty.
  • Put your used mask in a plastic bag or directly in the laundry bin to be washed.
  • Use the hot cycle and dryer when washing and drying your mask.

More resources: 

To see the latest Toronto Public Health guidelines, including resources on how to choose and make a mask, visit:

Connect to TEA’s Zero Waste High Rise project

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