As Landfills Pile-Up with Face masks, we Face a Looming Environmental Crisis
Once confined to hospitals, dental offices, and other specialized settings, face masks have become an everyday essential around the world in the wake of 2020’s coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, in fact, it is now a legal requirement to sport a face covering in public spaces – a measure implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19 and reduce disease fatality rates.
An unfortunate consequence of this is that billions of disposable face masks are regularly finding their way into landfill sites or even into our seas.
According to recent research by the Guardian, conservationists in the Mediterranean are very concerned about the astronomical number of face masks now floating in our oceans. The average lifespan of a standard disposable face mask is a shocking 450 years, spelling very bad news for oceans already full to the brim with marine debris.
So, what are the possible consequences of face masks becoming the ‘new normal’, and what can be done to protect both people and the planet from their adverse effects?
Discarded face masks present a serious biohazard.
First things first, it is important to point out that masks not disposed of safely could (paradoxically) contribute to the spread of coronavirus. This is because SARS-CoV-2 – the virus responsible for COVID-19 – has been shown to survive on surgical masks for up to seven days. In this way, litter pickers, waste collectors, or unsuspecting members of the public could be exposed to the virus if they come into close contact with a discarded mask.
Animals are also at significant risk from rogue masks found on the streets or elsewhere. As well as presenting a choking hazard, plastic can wreak havoc with animals’ stomachs when ingested, causing blockages, pain, and malnourishment. Smaller animals could also end up entangled in face mask loops, something which presents a risk to life.
On a wider scale, plant-life may be adversely affected by discarded face masks as plastic waste can impede the healthy growth of plants and destroy ecosystems. As a consequence, the food chain may be affected, allowing chemicals and nasty bacteria to invade the bodies of animals and sometimes even humans.
Finally, thanks to a lack of guidance or public information about how to safely dispose of masks, fears are growing about uncontrolled dumping or incineration. Burning plastics can release seriously harmful toxins into the air, compounding the effects of a health crisis more serious than many others in living memory.
So, what can be done?
While the widespread use of face masks presents serious logistical problems, the aforementioned issues are not unavoidable. According to a recent study published by The Pew Charitable Trusts in collaboration with sustainability organization Systemiq, addressing the issues surrounding plastic waste should be well within our grasp.
Worryingly, forecasts laid out in the study suggest that the amount of plastic dumped into the ocean every year could triple from 11 to 29 million tons by 2040. However, simply by altering business practices, regulating certain areas of the economy, and encouraging consumers to make better, more eco-friendly decisions, the amount of plastic pollution we produce could be slashed by around 80%. Recommendations made by the report include redesigning packaging and products to make them recyclable, optimizing waste collection practices, and investing in waste disposal initiatives in poorer countries.
Of course, one of the most important factors in improving the current situation surrounding face mask waste is international co-operation. Global trade policies have a major role to play in curbing pollution levels as they can improve the ways in which masks are manufactured, distributed, used, and disposed of across the world. While nationwide policies can go some way to making a difference, global cooperation and consensus on the problems at stake represent the only ways to ensure that the problem is adequately addressed.
Currently, environmental think tanks and sustainability organizations are encouraging governments to promote plastic substitutes that are biodegradable, non-toxic, reusable, or recyclable. As well as solving existential environmental problems, such changes could provide new jobs around the world and lead to a large-scale revolution in consumption habits.
How you can make a difference?
No single person is going to solve the plastic pollution crisis on their own. However, there are simple changes you can make to reduce your impact on the environment. Remember: if everyone in the world (particularly in the global north) adopted sustainable practices, we could significantly lighten the plastic burden on the world’s oceans.
If you find yourself using and disposing of several face masks a week, it may be time to rethink your consumption practices. Don’t worry – we’re not suggesting you go maskless. Wearing a mask has been shown to have some effect on curbing COVID-19 infections and is a good way to protect the people around you. However, we are suggesting that you ditch harmful plastic masks for a sustainable and reusable model.
How we can help?
Our face masks are made using three nylon and cotton layers as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), providing excellent levels of protection while saving the environment from plastic pollution.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that disposable masks are more protective, despite their medicalized and professional appearance. Our luxury face masks offer as much protection as you need in an everyday environment, as well as providing you with maximum levels of comfort. All of our products are made in Italy and are crafted using ECONYL® regenerated nylon, a unique product offering both style and functionality. Our masks also come with filters to aid easy breathing – great for those who find mask-wearing difficult. What’s more, they are very easy to wash and can simply be added to your usual laundry load.
There has never been a better time to look after the people and environment around you. To find out more about our reusable face masks, do not hesitate to get in touch or browse our website. We are more than happy to field any questions about our eco-friendly products.