The wasted taxpayer money being spent storing obsolete face masks for schools
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The wasted taxpayer money being spent storing obsolete face masks for schools

Aug 21, 2023

The Ministry of Education is spending $26,000 a month on storage fees for millions of face masks laid to waste with the removal of mask mandates.

More than 30 million masks bought by the ministry for teachers and students are languishing in storage and due to expire in 2025.

The storage cost for the masks is so expensive the ministry’s now considering destroying them all - at a further cost to the taxpayer of $119,000.

National’s education spokesperson Erica Stanford told Stuff: “Labour has a complete disregard for taxpayer money and this is just another example of wasteful spending from a government that has spent billions more in education while presiding over an alarming decline in educational outcomes for our young people.”

The ministry can’t even give the masks away.

Ministry of Education Leader of Operations and Integration, Sean Teddy, told Stuff that they explored all options to redistribute the masks, “this included contacting all schools, kura and early learning services, community services such as Salvation Army and Foodbank and international aid agencies. There was a very limited response.”

The ministry has calculated that storing the masks until they expire would cost $520,000 plus the $119,000 to destroy them then anyway.

“Now that all mask mandates have been removed and with significant stock available across the country, we are considering our options in maintaining an ongoing stock of masks,” said Teddy.

“Every dollar in education should be going directly to schools to lift achievement but instead, we are seeing the Ministry of Education spend more than half a million dollars storing and disposing of expired face masks. That’s enough to fund more about 20,000 teacher aide hours,” said Stanford.

In preparation for Omicron in February 2022, the Ministry of Education purchased a further 36 million masks to bolster supplies.

At the time school staff were required to wear medical-grade masks when working with children indoors, and year 4 students and up were also required to wear masks inside to help protect them from Covid.

Mask mandates in schools were scrapped completely in April 2022.

Assuming the masks have been stored since around then, the Government may have spent more than $400,000 storing them.

Stuff has requested the exact figure spent to date from the ministry, and in the meantime it has pointed out that at Covid’s peak masks went out to schools and kura as soon as they came in, so storage costs would only have come into effect as surplus mask stock was built.

There are 26.5 million adult masks and 4 million child masks in storage.