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Is your disposable face mask destroying the planet?

Face masks have become an essential part of daily life, helping to keep us protected from Covid-19. However, seeing the every-growing quantities of disposable masks lying on the street, we are forced once again to confront the global issue of our massive plastic consumption.

It’s easy to find disposable masks for sale everywhere you go now, and we are advised by health officials that these masks are only to be worn once. However, if you take a look at the components of these single-use masks, you’ll find one of the main ingredients listed is polypropylene. This is one of the forms of plastic that can be found in the ever-growing pile of plastics that are swimming in our ocean, with dire consequences for our planet. Plastics in the ocean not only affect the ecosystems and animals it houses, but they also interrupt a huge number of breeding grounds and migration routes of fish.

We all know about the huge quantities of rubbish being dumped into our sees, but the consequences are pretty devastating. Many species of marine animals cannot tell the difference between plastics and food, so they will eat (or choke) on the plastic in the ocean.

This often leads to starvation, as the animals cannot digest the plastic and it fills their stomachs, stopping them from being able to eat real food. As well as the danger to marine life, the plastic in the ocean also poses a danger to human health. If you’re a fan of eating fish such as brown trout, cisco, and perch, studies show that they have all, at some point, ingested plastic microfibers, so you’re likely consuming plastics along with it.

Here are a few facts about our current plastic problem in the ocean:

  • 8 million pieces of plastic land in the ocean every day. Estimates point to around
  • 5.25 trillion macros and microplastic pieces floating in the ocean, weighing around
  • 269,000 tonnes. This plastic constitutes 60-90% of all marine debris currently
  • studied.
  • One truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute.
  • There are five huge patches of plastic debris in the oceans around the world; the one
  • between California and Hawaii is the size of the state of Texas.
  • By weight there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.
  • Plastic in the ocean can be found as far as 11km deep, which means even the most remote parts of earth are being polluted by synthetic fibres.

Closer to home, we’ve seen that huge numbers of birds have also been found tied up in the masks which are discarded on the street. These dropped masks also present a biohazard to the general public, as well as the waste collectors who have to pick them up. Whilst you can cut the straps to help mitigate the risks to wildlife, this is just one part of the larger problem surrounding disposable masks.

This is not to dismiss the importance of masks and their place in helping us tackle the global pandemic. Measuring deaths related to coronavirus across 198 countries found that countries with cultural practice or policies of mask-wearing showed lower death rates. And case reports illustrate the significant impact masks have on lowering transmission, such as the report of a man who flew from China to Toronto and afterwards tested positive for COVID-19. He wore a mask on the flight and the 25 people nearest to him on the flight tested negative for COVID-19. Similarly, in a simulation, researchers estimated that 80 percent of the population wearing masks would help to reduce COVID-19 spread than a lockdown.

However, there’s no need for us to have to choose between human health and the health of the planet and there’s an obvious solution to help to reduce some of the negative consequences of single-use masks on our environment, and that’s to buy reusable masks instead.

Like most reusable products, the small investment in the short term ends up working out to a much cheaper price per use and if you have a few to hand, you’ll be able to wash each one after using it and still have a spare to use. They are suitable for hand and machine washing and ensure that we’re not contributing to the mounting piles of plastic in our seas.

Click here to browse reusable face masks you can wash and wear again.

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