Like it or not, the COVID-19 global pandemic means face coverings are here to stay for the foreseeable future, but does wearing one have to be at the cost of our planet?
Disposable masks are manufactured using non-woven fabrics made from plastics. The material most commonly used to make them is polypropylene, either 20 or 25 grams per square meter (gsm) in density. Masks can also be made of polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester. They are also non-recyclable.
While the proper way to dispose of single-use masks is to place them in general waste bins, they can often be seen strewn on pavements, laying on beaches and flying in the wind. The consequence of this irresponsible disposal is that they end up entering our waterways and seas.
The French non-profit, Opération Mer Propre, found dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitiser beneath the waves of the Mediterranean. In the UK, an increase in this type of litter has also been found. It is estimated that if every person in the UK alone used one single-use face covering each day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste that cannot be recycled!
Reusable face coverings. Whether you buy them on high street, at your local seller or even opt to make one yourself, the options now are endless. Reusable masks not protect us, the environment and the fragile biodiversity of our oceans, but they are also recommended by the UK government, as does The World Health Organisation (WHO), which advises using a multiple-layer mask rather than relying on disposable ones.
The official Mayor of London website has some handy tips when purchasing reusable face coverings, such as:
- They should be made of more than one layer of fabric.
- The material should be a tightly woven fabric to catch the miniscule particles of the virus.
- There should be enough material to cover from the bridge of your nose to the bottom of your chin.
- It should be easy to remove using the straps without touching your face or the front of the covering.
- It should have a comfortable but snug fit.
- It is also recommended to avoid coverings with a built-in one-way exhalation valve as they do not filter exhaled air and therefore won’t protect others around you.
- Glasses wearers can get a mask with an in-built nose wire to avoid fogging up. This will prevent glasses steaming up by helping to keep the covering close to your face.
How often should I wash my reusable fabric mask?
Ideally after each use, but at least every day. It can also be added to your normal laundry washing with detergent. For optimum results, wash them at 60 degrees C.
So until the end of COVID-19 is in sight, let’s protect both ourselves and our environment by playing our part. Switch to recommended government alternatives instead of using disposable face coverings.
For other ideas to help our planet, why not visit our Make the Switch page.