Following the World Health Organization's formal declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the world has become increasingly hyper-hygienic. To combat the transmission of the virus, governments globally swiftly pressed the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) — particularly face coverings. As a result, large demand has been placed on disposable masks in our fight to combat the coronavirus.
It is critical to consider how PPE impacts the environment. Unfortunately, mask pollution has risen substantially. Experts are becoming increasingly concerned about its involvement in the world's environmental struggles — particularly plastic pollution. Mask pollution is causing plastic pollution, poisoning waterways and endangering wildlife.
Reports of wildlife, including marine life, show that animals are being entangled, suffocated or poisoned by disposable masks due to mask pollution in their habitat. Researchers have also discovered changed behaviors in tide pool animals that are likely related to toxins seeping from disposable masks when submerged in water. The behavioral impacts include signs of stress, migration and reduced ability to reproduce.
On my daily walks with my dog, I notice masks contaminating the streets and my dog sniffing them in the grass. As someone who has grown up in a polluted environment, I have seen firsthand the negative impact it has not only physically, but also mentally.
Here are solutions to help us leave a minimal carbon footprint in the midst of the pandemic and take care of our environment’s health while we take care of our own.
1. Cut The Elastic Straps On Your Disposable Masks
Wildlife, including oceanic wildlife, is at major risk due to mask pollution. Michelle C. Hallow, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said, “The elastic strings attached to the masks and placed behind your ears are a problem for birds and sea creatures. It has become common to see animals entangled with these strings around their necks.” To prevent wildlife from being harmed, it is recommended that you cut the elastic straps of your disposable masks before discarding them.
2. Consider Recyclable, Reusable and Eco-Friendly Face Mask Alternatives
As mask pollution became a major source of worry, many specialists advocated for the usage of facial coverings made of reusable cotton throughout 2020 and the early months of 2021. However, due to the rise of a new COVID-19 Omicron variant last November, it is recommended that people use a KN95, N95, or KF94 face mask for optimal virus protection. These types of masks have the advantage of being able to be worn several times before being discarded, making them suitable masks for reuse.
3. Properly Dispose Your Face Masks
Although it is inevitable for plastic materials to wind up in landfills, proper disposal of facial masks in trash bins can make a big difference in the health of the ecosystem by enhancing the appearance of the environment and reducing wildlife contact.
4. Take Action
As it becomes common to see old, dirty discarded masks lying on the ground, we can all do our part to help the environment. We can take action by volunteering in community cleanups or anti-litter initiatives.