Wearing disposable facemasks is "unforgivable", the environment minister has said.

In a House of Lords debate about the Environment Bill, Lord Goldsmith accused fellow peers of hypocrisy as they criticised the legislation while wearing the throwaway masks.

Conservative peer Lord Cormack urged the environment minister to show that he "really, desperately cares about what we care about" and accept an amendment including soil in the description of the natural environment.

Lord Goldsmith responded: "He asked that I demonstrate my seriousness on this issue, which is slightly annoying, I have to say. I have committed and devoted every day of my life as far back as I remember – since I was a five-year-old – to the environment, and I will continue to do so.

"Being a minister for the environment is a mere step in that process. I might ask him to square his own suspiciously hollow laments about the stupidity of plastic waste with his daily insistence on wearing these absurd throwaway masks, which really are unforgivable, as far as I can see."

Lord Goldsmith, who attended the debate wearing a dark blue, cloth mask, has previously criticised his fellow peers for using the disposable masks, which do not biodegrade and are not recyclable.

50m masks a day being thrown away

Waste companies have estimated that the UK has been throwing away 53 million disposable face masks each day since wearing a face covering became required in indoor public spaces last year.

They take hundreds of years to break down and create microplastics which pollute seas and waterways and can be harmful to wildlife.

Government guidance on face masks recommends that the public wear either a cloth or disposable mask "with multiple layers".

While homemade masks were common early in the pandemic, concern about their efficacy combined with the increasing availability of higher-grade masks have prompted many to switch.