Day 10: Reusable Masks
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environmental problem that would have seemed unlikely just a year ago–severe ocean pollution caused single-use surgical masks and gloves.
According to a recent study conducted by a Hong Kong based marine conservation organization, over 1.5 billion masks entered the world’s oceans in 2020, resulting in thousands of metric tonnes of plastic pollution that will take hundreds of years to break down. Some researchers even speculate that it is only a matter of time before there are more face masks in the ocean than jellyfish. Beaches in the UK are not immune to the increasing pollution problem. In fact, volunteers participating in a recent beach litter clean-up effort found that over 30% of the beaches they cleaned up had discarded PPE and masks strewn across them, something that had never happened before.
Single-use masks are especially harmful to the environment because their design and composition make them difficult to recycle. They also serve as a source of microplastics. Single-use PPE is designed to do just that–be used only once. Since masks and face coverings are now required around the world to keep people safe and reduce the spread of the virus, the number of masks harming the environment and polluting the oceans will only continue to increase unless something changes.
It is hard to say when the need to wear masks and face coverings will completely disappear. Luckily, there are things that we can do in the meantime to try to reduce the use of these masks. Please note, the COVID pandemic can be scary and stressful. It is more important than ever to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. Some people favour single-use masks over cloth masks and other face coverings because they are thought to offer more protection against the virus. While we should all do our best to reduce our use of single-use plastics and products, safety is paramount, and if you must wear single-use PPE, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Medical workers, for example, are expressly told not to wear reusable PPE on the job.
How to use reusable masks
While it is true that wearing a mask or face covering is a very powerful tool to protect against the spread of COVID and other diseases, effective handwashing and social distancing can also help prevent COVID’s spread. By practising other COVID safety precautions, perhaps we can grow to feel more comfortable using reusable masks instead of single-use ones. Reusable masks are proven to be more effective than wearing no mask or wearing certain face coverings, such as neck gaiters. Many cloth masks are extremely effective and offer multiple layers of protection.
Here are a few ways to be as safe as possible while wearing a cloth mask:
- Carry more than one reusable cloth mask so that you can quickly put on a clean one if your mask becomes soiled
- Avoid touching your face or your mask
- Always wash your hands after putting on or taking off your reusable mask
- Practice regular and proper handwashing
Regardless of whether you prefer to wear reusable cloth masks or paper surgical masks, experts recommend that you wear the same mask for only a few hours at a time and that you immediately change your mask if it becomes wet or soiled. The good news is, the more we learn about COVID, the better we get at protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of the virus.
At the end of the day, you should do what makes you feel safest. Companies around the world are working hard to design and manufacture the safest possible reusable cloth masks, which will hopefully help even more people feel comfortable replacing their single-use masks with replaceable ones. If you feel comfortable doing so, try wearing a reusable cloth mask to help reduce the amount of pollution caused by single-use paper ones. The world’s oceans will thank you!
Are you using reusable masks? What has your experience been? Let me know in the comments below!