Disposable Face Masks - A Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Disposable Face Masks - A Disaster Waiting to Happen?

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 spread of the virus and protect human lives. One of the most common practices that has taken effect 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.

 

For example, there have been numerous reports from beaches across our planet stating that large volumes of disposable face masks wash up on their shorelines. Myriads of people are provided with single-use masks, but these same people have not been instructed on how to best dispose of this item. 

A significant 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. 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 very 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.

 

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.

 

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. As this plastic waste accrues, it can disrupt and even completely eradicate existing healthy ecosystems. 

Another often ignored facet to disposable face mask production is the human rights aspect in their manufacturing. These masks are incredibly inexpensive and are mass-produced in factories where workers may not be provided with safe and ethical working conditions or even close to a living wage. The demand for disposable facemasks is a driving force for unethical labor scenarios in developing countries where previously, they relied heavily on contracts in the garment industry, which have now been reneged on.

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 is due to launch a range of high quality, sustainable, reusable face masks that support our mission of making the world a better place to live through our environmental initiatives. Our 100% organic hemp triple layer masks will be available from November 2, 2020.