As we enter lockdown 2.0 the use of face masks in shops, takeaways and public transport has never been more important. However the irresponsible use of PPE, particularly face masks and latex gloves, has already caused huge amounts of pollution. Here are nine reasons why you should avoid wearing a disposable mask:
1. They're made of plastic
Disposable masks come in a variety of forms, but they are all generally made up of a composition formed of plastics including Polypropylene, a type of thermo plastic which takes hundreds of years to break down. The elastic found in facemasks is also made of a woven plastic, and so also takes many years to break down.
2. Masks are polluting the sea
As early as April 2020, the French non profit Operation Mer Propre (Clean Sea Operation) reported finding disposable masks and latex gloves in the Mediterranean Sea. Since then the number of masks and gloves found has risen exponentially, and as early as June it was predicted that there would be more masks than jellyfish in the sea by April 2021.
3. They cause harm to animals
Dolphins, turtles and other marine life have been found to have died from choking on disposable face masks and latex gloves, which can easily be mistaken for jellyfish. Autopsies performed on a number of dolphin carcases that have been washed ashore have found the cause of death to be bowel obstructions from ingesting disposable face masks and other plastic detritus.
The RSPB has also reported a huge increase in birds, particularly seagulls, becoming entangled in disposable face masks. If you do have to wear a single use face mask, please ensure you cut the elastic before disposal to prevent animals and birds becoming entangled.
4. They can't be recyled
The main component of a disposable face mask is Polypropylene, which is mainly found in plastic packaging for food. Currently less than 1% of this plastic is recycled.
Due to the combination of materials that are woven together in disposable face masks, they are currently not recyclable, so have to be put into regular waste. Eventually many of these face masks will find their way into waterways, either because they have been disposed of incorrectly, or from ending up in landfill. The plastics found in the masks will degrade into micro plastics, causing further harm to the environment.
5. They waste water
Hundreds of litres of water are used in all levels of the manufacture of disposable face masks; for abstraction, manufacture, production and transportation.
When purchasing a sustainably sourced reusable mask you can make the conscious choice to ensure you're buying from a manufacturer who makes steps to ensure responsible use of water. The Ecoalf Silver Ion Masks for example are made from 100% recycled polyester, and since the polyester already exists, less water is used in the manufacturing process. Additionally this mask is completely recyclable.
6. They contributing to increasing CO2 levels
Plastic production is an energy-intensive process which creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Around 80g of carbon is used in the manufacture of both disposable and reusable face masks, but a single-use mask is then disposed of, ending its lifecycle. Fabric masks can be washed in a normal wash cycle and used again and again, increasing the lifecycle with very little increase in carbon or water. The fabric face masks from Dedais are made from fabric offcuts, making them an even more sustainable alternative.
7. They're single use
During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been an increase in single use items, from coffee cups to latex gloves. At the same time we are becoming all the more conscious of how this is affecting our planet. By using disposable masks we are not only creating more plastic, but burning more carbon, and thus destroying our planet.
By using reusable masks we can drastically cut down the amount of single use items we use in everyday life, protecting the planet for future generations.
8. Reusable is better
In the last few months the technology and design of reusable face masks has greatly improved. There are now many designs on the market that offer varying degrees of protection.
All our face masks at 69b are made fairly using sustainably sourced materials that can be put in the washing machine, ensuring each mask gets plenty of use.
9. Save PPE for the professionals
When it comes to PPE it's vital that it is given to the people who need it most. Although face masks are important to protect ourselves and others from the risk of the spread of COVID-19, it is even more important that our NHS staff on the frontline of the pandemic have a plentiful supply of PPE to keep them safe.