Pre-pandemic we were all very committed to reducing our carbon footprint. Reusable coffee cups, drink bottles, refusing plastic bags and even a commitment to slow travel and sustainable fashion were all everyday topics being discussed. Prior to 2020 the world was becoming committed to reducing all our waste, single-use plastics and our overall carbon footprint.
Enter 2020, and a pandemic that suddenly was dedicated to stopping the spread of covid-19. Unfortunately, this snowballed into stores refusing to refill reusable cups, many people choosing disposable masks over the compliant and more sustainable cloth versions and an increase in micro-plastic pollution and waste in the form of PCR tests and other medical equipment.
Two years into the worldwide pandemic, unfortunately, has brought to the attention an increased consumption of single-use masks and single-use plastics. Suddenly disposable became synonymous with preventing the spread and protecting our health. Recently the landfill being caused by single-use disposable masks has been making headlines, as the world begins to slowly move from the pandemic to an endemic. So, let's look at the options associated with single-use masks and how we can reduce them from contributing to our global waste. It is estimated 129 billion single-use face masks are used monthly around the world. This has caused many countries to look into recycling options for our PPE equipment.
The problem lies in what is happening to masks after they are disposed of, they are simply being turned into landfill which takes 450 years to decompose or even worse they are burnt which increases their toxic gasses which affect our earth's delicate atmosphere. Some are even making their way into our waterways and oceans posing an increased risk to our natural wildlife and their habitats.
This micro-plastic pollution and waste that these current practices are contributing to are not viable or sustainable long term solutions. If the world continues to use disposable face masks to protect themselves from viruses, germs and potential health risks a more eco-friendly solution is needed.
Therefore the way we are disposing of our plastic masks needs to change. A few major cities are moving into up cycling which involves melting down these masks and reusing them to create other products. Recycling our face masks and other plastic items associated with this pandemic ensures that they are not contributing to landfill that takes many years to break down. In the UK recycling of PPE and other disposable plastic products is currently being implemented. The UK is committed and leading the way in turning disposable masks into a circular economy where they are recycled and reused for endless products.
In Australia, they are looking into repurposing pandemic plastic waste into materials to be used to build roads but unfortunately this while being an important factor that needs to be addressed. Plastic up cycling has yet to be implemented worldwide therefore it's time to consider an alternative to disposable face masks if you want to factor in your contribution to plastic consumption and waste. Cloth masks come in a variety of fabrics and layers. The reason why many people preferred the disposable versions is they believed they offered more protection.
If you are seeking out a protective but reusable face mask look for one that has these 3 things,
Using face masks that are made from natural fabrics like hemp. Cotton or even taro leaf wax provide viable long-life solutions to the current single-use and plastic waste of the current disposable masks.
Face masks that contain triple layers or even the option of inserting a protective layer are the best in protecting you from viruses and breathing other people's bacteria.
We must renew our commitment to reducing plastic waste
Currently, as we ease our way out of the pandemic there needs to be an international agreement to commit to recycling and up cycling the waste that the disposable ppe and other pandemic related products. this is not only a commitment to protecting our earth but it is also a commitment to protecting our oceans and the animals and plants that inhabit them. As consumers, a move towards sustainable masks using sustainable fabric is currently the only solution available until more countries adopt a post-pandemic plastic recycling option.