Face Masks have quickly become part of our daily lives, we wear them and we throw them away. So much we now find these disposable masks laying on the streets of our cities, in our forests, on the seabed of our seas and oceans. And it's not gonna get better, as countries start lifting lockdown restrictions around the world, billions of masks will be needed each month globally.
The environmental impact of disposable face masks
Made from polypropylene, derived from petroleum, single use face masks are basically plastic. And just like plastic, they degrades slowly, very slowly: it would indeed take more than four centuries to decompose in nature. And like plastic, these masks, more often than not, do not find their way to the recycling plant. They most likely end their short life in landfills, contaminating the soil, or in marine ecosystems, eaten and digested by wildlife, ending up in the food chain and ultimately, on our plates.
Face Mask is on the menu guys, and for the next few hundred years...
On the bright side, Instagramable food pictures in 50 years will probably look yummy and shiny with all the plastic that's gonna be in it. And let's not talk about the impact on human health, that is already depressing enough.
But fortunately there are alternative and sustainable solutions to help alleviate the impact of mask wearing, such as reusable cloth masks. While these sustainable face masks might seem like a more expensive option, in the long run they will save you a lot of money.
About the efficacy of cloth masks
In a review of observational studies, an international research team estimates that surgical and comparable cloth masks are 67% effective in protecting the wearer.
In unpublished work, Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, found that even a cotton T-shirt can block half of inhaled aerosols and almost 80% of exhaled aerosols measuring 2 µm across. Once you get to aerosols of 4–5 µm, almost any fabric can block more than 80% in both directions. Multiple layers of fabric, she adds, are more effective, and the tighter the weave, the better.
Eric Westman, a clinical researcher at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, co-authored an August study that demonstrated a method for testing mask effectiveness. His team used lasers and smartphone cameras to compare how well 14 different cloth and surgical face coverings stopped droplets while a person spoke. “I was reassured that a lot of the masks we use did work,” he says, referring to the performance of cloth and surgical masks.
To summarise, there's a lot of information out there, and sustainable cloth mask do offer protection, but obviously they don't prevent you from cleaning your hands, social distancing, and just caring about people around you.
The social impact of face masks
Disposable face masks are ugly, they honestly keep reminding us we're living a global pandemic, and make us feel constantly like we are part of a really low grade zombie movie. That can't be good for mental health right ?
So how to look good with a face mask ? How to solve your biggest problem in life ? How to stay stylish and not look like a nurse caring for a terminally ill patient every time you step a foot outside ? How to save the planet, human kind, wildlife, the universe and everything in between ?
Well, buy a sustainable mask goddammit ! they are stylish and colorful, they are made ethically, and are good for you, for the artisans who make them, and finally, for the planet :)