Why is mask waste such a problem? Most people know by now that wearing a face-covering is the single most effective tool we have against the novel coronavirus until scientists come up with a vaccine or a cure. But too many people are still relying on disposable face masks instead of buying or making reusable ones, which means that there is far too much garbage headed to landfills and waterways. How can sustainability come into focus when people consider their own face mask use?
The Problem With Disposable PPE
Really the main problem with disposable PPE is that it should only be used by healthcare professionals whenever possible so we don’t run the risk of running out again when the pandemic surges again this winter.
But there are environmental concerns with unnecessary use of PPE, also. In the United Kingdom, 128,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste is expected this year alone from disposable PPE. Disposable PPE is not being disposed of properly when used by people who aren’t in a clinical medical setting, and it’s ending up littering parking lots and eventually being swept into waterways.
There’s also the issue of bacteria counts. The longer PPE is worn, the higher the bacteria count on it. This means PPE of any kind should be changed frequently, and if sustainability is taken into account disposable PPE isn’t a good solution for most people.
Considering Sustainability In PPE
The good news is that unless you have open wounds on your hands you do not need gloves, just frequent handwashing and hand sanitizer when you aren’t able to wash your hands.
When it comes to masks, wearing one for an extended period of time means you need to keep several on hand and change them when they start to get damp from exhalation. Keep a clean bag and a dirty bag, and wash hands after touching the dirty mask and before putting on the clean mask for the best results.
Disposable masks create ten times the climate change impact of reusable masks, but the materials used in reusable masks matters for a number of reasons. Handkerchiefs and bandannas aren’t the most effective material at stopping respiratory droplets. Double layered cotton, which most homemade masks are made from, is one of the most effective materials, but cotton is a major resource hog, so unless the cotton is reclaimed from old sheets, t-shirts, and pillowcases even that is not the most sustainable option out there.
Cork can’t be beaten when it comes to sustainability. It’s recyclable and cork trees add to biodiversity in the world’s forests. When cork bark is harvested, the trees react by absorbing five times the carbon dioxide. Cork is also biodegradable.
What’s more, cork is naturally buoyant and naturally antimicrobial as well as hypoallergenic. Cork masks are washable and reusable, making them safe, effective, and environmentally sustainable. Cork masks are vegan and PETA-approved, and cork masks are lined with non-woven fabric to capture respiratory droplets better than woven fabric.
Learn more about cork masks below.
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