We must remain our responsibility towards nature and the environment while taking care of our health
Vita Jaunzeme, Head of the Big Cleanup
Hygienic face masks are currently one of the most effective weapons in the fight against the new coronavirus. However, for our own safety, we can cause serious damage to our environment and world’s ecosystems unless we learn to handle used protective equipment responsibly. According to historical data uploaded by United Nations, it is estimated that about 75 percent of the masks and other pandemic-related waste used will end up in landfills or swim at seas. Therefore, it is important right now to talk and think about the right course of action during the pandemic to reduce risks of environmental pollution.
The large increase in the number of disposable face masks in the world is an inevitable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is clearly damaging the environment in the interests of our own health. According to a study published in the journal Science by the American Association of the Advancement Science, if every person in the world followed the law and used one disposable face mask a day, the waste rate could reach at least 129 billion face masks a month by the end of the pandemic.
As for face masks, it is important to understand that even if they are labeled as ecological or recyclable, they cannot be considered environmentally friendly because face masks are not recyclable and tend to be made of different materials. Medicine has created a system for the destruction of such protective equipment, which usually involves segregation and incineration, while the majority of the public has to dispose of face masks themselves, which is often difficult and controversial.
Face masks, including disposable gloves, are not recyclable and should not be disposed of in containers for plastic or paper packaging. In addition, the recycling of used masks and gloves can pose a serious risk to other people – recycling workers if the mask is worn by a COVID-19 infected person. It is recommended to pack used face masks and gloves in a bag and dispose of in a household waste container.
If you feel responsible not only for your own health and health of your loved ones, but also for those around you and the planet, I recommend purchasing reusable cloth face masks. Several studies show that reusable cloth face masks sewn from high-quality materials with the right design are almost as effective as disposable masks, and are much more environmentally friendly. To ensure that the reusable face mask performs its function, it should be stored in a clean place and washed regularly, and it is also advisable to iron it. Make sure you have removed the mask correctly (without touching the mouthpiece) and wash or disinfect your hands before and after touching it.
Reusable face masks with replaceable filters are much more friendly to people and the environment. It is essential that we remain responsible and conscientious in our choices, choosing the right protective equipment for the circumstances and the situation, and think about the proper strategies and disposal. Given the current situation, I believe that we should think more in the long term on the use of recyclable materials in the manufacture of various types of protective equipment. Therefore, they would both serve society and not endanger our planet. Face masks will probably be an integral part of our lives for some time to come, but the environmental pollution caused by the pandemic will have to be fought not only by us but also by future generations. I would like to remind that nature is not a waste bin where to throw away what is no longer needed.