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Single-Use Face Masks Are Helping to Stop the Spread of Coronavirus—But Perhaps at the Expense of the Earth
Sponsored Post by tentree
Face masks are the new normal in 2020, but did you ever stop to think about where yours ends up after throwing it away?
As of June, over 50 countries have made facial coverings mandatory in public places, with many more following suit as mounting evidence points to their effectiveness at significantly reducing the spread of COVID-19.
That’s good news for us humans, but potentially bad news for the planet.
Disposable Masks Are the New Plastic
If you’ve been noticing more single-use masks and gloves littered across streets and parks, you’re not the only one. The surge in production to meet the demands of modern society living through a global pandemic has created a whole new kind of pollution.
Last year, 20 billion masks were produced worldwide. Compare that to China’s production of 70.6 billion masks between March and May of this year alone.
“Knowing that more than 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there may be more masks than jellyfish in Mediterranean waters,” writes Laurent Lombard, member of the French non-profit Opération Me Propre, on Facebook.
To put into perspective just how much of an impact disposable masks could have on the environment, researchers from University College London’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub looked at what would happen if every person in the UK used one single-use mask every day for one year.
They concluded that it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste. That’s about one kilogram per person.
Cloth Masks Are an Environmentally-Friendly Alternative to Their Single-Use Counterparts
Government and health authorities around the world recommend using either a cloth mask or a disposable surgical mask when going out. Disposable masks may seem cheaper and more convenient, but cloth masks can help you do your part in cutting down on COVID-related waste piling up in our landfills.
The main benefit comes from cloth masks being washable and therefore reusable. The simple fact that you’re not throwing them in the trash at the end of the day makes cloth masks far more environmentally friendly than their disposable counterparts.
If you wear a mask on a daily basis, consider getting a set of seven cloth masks so you can wear a fresh one each day. After use, throw your mask in your laundry hamper and then toss them all in the wash once a week.
They’re even more environmentally friendly when you choose cloth masks that are made from fabrics and materials that have been recycled and sustainably produced. An easy thing to look for in a sustainably produced cloth mask is organic cotton.
Organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful chemicals, uses much less water than conventional cotton, and produces nearly 46 percent less CO2. Conventional cotton, on the other hand, is regarded as the dirtiest crop in the world. It takes 16 percent of global insecticides plus $2 billion worth of pesticides every year to produce it.
But Are Cloth Masks Protective Enough?
When it comes to disposable surgical masks versus cloth masks, is one better at stopping the spread of the virus than the other? The answer isn’t fully yet known, however we certainly have some information to consider.
Neither surgical nor cloth masks offer the protection of medical N95 masks and respirators, but a recent study released in April has helped shed some light on the effectiveness of store-bought or homemade cloth masks in comparison to surgical ones.
Researchers in South Korea asked four infected participants to cough five times—once without a mask, once with a surgical mask, once with a cloth mask, and then once again without a mask. Viral load for the cotton mask was lowest at 1.85 log copies per millimetre on the mask exterior, compared to 2.42 on the surgical mask and 2.56 with no mask.
The findings actually contradict the results of previous research conducted in 2013 and in 2008, both of which found surgical masks to be more effective at blocking the spread of particles compared to cloth masks. To add to even more confusion, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the World Health Organization originally recommended surgical masks in the early days of the pandemic, but later switched to recommending cloth masks.
More research is definitely needed in order to recommend one as being more effective over the other, however it’s certainly clear that any mask is better than no mask.
You can enhance the protectiveness of your mask by choosing one that:
- is the appropriate size for your face;
- is tight-fitting with no gaps around the edges;
- is made from heavy-duty fabric (as opposed to very light, porous fabric);
- includes multiple layers; and
- includes space for optionally inserting a filter.
Please note that wearing a mask is no substitute for social distancing and hand washing.
Stop the Spread Without Sacrificing the Health of Our Planet
Here at tentree, we believe in giving back what we take from the planet—even during a global pandemic. Our sustainable face masks are made from recycled and repurposed materials including organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester that come in a variety of colours, designs, and sizes.
We must continuously adapt to whatever nature throws our way, but not at the expense of our planet. Consult your local authorities for the recommended COVID-19 practices in your area and choose cloth masks over disposable ones whenever possible so you can help stop the spread of COVID-19 without negatively impacting our environment.