Disposable Face Masks - a disaster to outweigh Coronavirus?

Disposable Face Masks - a disaster to outweigh Coronavirus?

The worldwide pandemic of Covid-19 has left very few elements of life untouched. Many areas of the world are under quarantine or specific pandemic guidelines to mitigate the virus's spread and protect human lives. One of the most common practices is utilizing face masks and social distancing.

Everywhere one looks, signs are stating, "masks required." Some people have turned to reusable masks, but huge numbers of disposable face masks are used throughout the world daily. Disposable face masks are inexpensive and convenient, but they are not without negative consequences. The environmental impact of millions of these masks, making their way to landfills, will have implications that far outlast Covid-19 regulations.

Girl wears disposable face mask in grocery store

Fish, birds, and animals are also finding masks in their natural habitats. As with all debris, especially plastic discarded items or items with strings attached, animals are being harmed or even killed. For example, a seagull was recently found with a discarded mask tightly bounding its legs. In the ocean, sealife will often mistake floating debris for food.  

Gull found in UK with discarded face mask tangled in its feet

Another major concern is that these masks are typically made of cheap polypropylene, a non-biodegradable plastic material prone to photo-degradation, which means it breaks down in UV light. This process of degradation happens very quickly, in a matter of weeks.  

Discard face masks are easily broken down

Due to the quick nature of polypropylene breaking down, many suppliers used to say that polypropylene was bio-degradable or compostable even! Nothing could be further from the truth. Bio-degradable and degradable are two completely separate things. Both degrade, which means they fragment into tiny pieces. But bio-degrade will fragment into organic matter, which can then be incorporated into a healthy ecosystem.

 Polypropylene degrades into small fragments of the polypropylene's original elements, which is basically plastic and quickly finds it's way into the waterways. And into our drinking water, or the water source of our food (fisheries, farmland, horticulture, etc.). It's not a great story.

 

Discarded face mask as seen through the grate of a drain leading to the ocean.

 

The fact that a littered face mask left out in the elements can degrade very quickly under UV light (it does not need to be a sunny day) and fragment into tiny particles of plastic, which then find their way into the waterways in a matter of a couple of months is a horrifying thought.

With the end of the Covid-19 pandemic nowhere in sight, it is imperative to encourage everyone to switch from disposable face mask usage to reusable face masks. This simple shift can help rectify all of the problematic issues above and create positive change that will have a lasting impact. 

Envirosax now has a range of high quality, sustainable, reusable face masks made from 100% organic hemp. Available Sunday 11/8