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The environmental impact of disposable face masks
06/11/2020
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Amy Arfi
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In a pre-pandemic world, the sight of the everyday public wearing face masks would have been totally bizarre and unsettling, but today it’s become the norm. Government restrictions extending to COVID-19 laws have ensured that we wear one in most public places in order to protect ourselves and others around us. It’s a sign of safety and one that we willingly oblige to, in the hope of a post-pandemic world drawing closer. Hands, face, space - you heard the man.

Unfortunately, much like items and accessories we use on the daily, there is the threat of these face masks becoming obligatory ‘throw-away’ objects like it were a used cotton pad or toothbrush. Naturally, this has become a conservationist dilemma. It’s difficult to warrant the danger of turning around so many disposable masks when their main function is to collect germs and prevent spreads of infections. Once you’ve worn a mask over your mouth and nose, it is then ‘dirty’ and not fit for use. In the bin it goes, we get it. 

But if we all continue to engage in this single-use, throwaway etiquette with no definitive end of coronavirus insight, we face the risk of harming the planet to no end. University College London ran a study which estimated if every person in the UK alone wore one disposable mask a day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste - a figure that on top of already unmanageable levels of plastic waste, is something we cannot afford to have piled up.

The classic, surgical-looking, disposable face masks are mainly made of non-woven fabric such as polypropylene. Similarly, polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethene or polyester are all other commonly-used materials contained in surgical masks. While they protect us successfully from bacteria, they are heavily plastic-based, liquid-resistant products that have a long afterlife. Unfortunately, this means their destiny is often landfill or the ocean.

Abroad, ocean cleaning organisations have coined the new phrase ‘covid waste’, referring to the noticeable rise in discarded face masks, gloves and sanitizer bottles found washed up or polluting the seas that surround us. Closer to home, environmental activist group Greenpeace say they have concerns about the increased littering of disposable masks found in streets or public parks. 

“They find their way into our waterways, clogging up our rivers and seas and degrading into harmful microplastics,” says Louise Edge, senior campaigner at Greenpeace to news outlet Wales Online. 

Whilst this environmental concern does not yet outweigh the threat of the virus or wider ecological worries, it is one that we can tackle now and very easily. The lifespan of a disposable single-use plastic mask is 450 years. By using one most days, it’s not exactly rocket science to see how this danger has the potential to stack up. Seeing as most of our commitment to aid the environment has come after large amounts of irreversible damage, it’s refreshing to encourage a preventative approach to lowering single-use plastic before it’s too late.

The answer is pretty easy, reusable masks are the way forward. They can be washed easily at high temperatures ensuring to kill bacteria, quick-drying and worn again without discarding or having to repurchase. Not only are they more eco-friendly, but also cost-efficient too because you are investing in a reusable mask rather than having to repurchase packs of disposable ones that will run out. 

Reusable masks are also often more comfortable which is ideal for those of us who are required to wear them for extensive time periods or long shifts at work. It also means you can opt for more stylish, fun or playful designs. If the face mask requirement is here to stay, let’s at least make it fashionable, hey. 

Our very own buyfair brand Victoria Eggs has got some ultra-fun reusable face masks available on our site. 

Ever the tourist, The Big Smoke and London Icons masks contain stylistic London motifs, destined for your daily mask-wearing commute into work. 

The rainbow on The Roses and Rainbow fabric mask is a symbol used by the NHS to make a positive difference by promoting a message of inclusion, it is non-judgmental and inclusive for all, regardless of how people identify themselves.  

The whimsically illustrated double-layered re-usable fabric face masks by Victoria Eggs are Handmade in Britain and printed onto 100% tightly woven cotton outer and 100% bamboo inner lining for softness against the face. Complete with an adjustable nose wire for a better fit.  

As face masks are becoming more advanced (who would've thought?), Victoria offers a fitted shape which sits comfortably around your nose and under eyes, or a pleated variety, which can be pulled upwards and extended to ensure maximum coverage of the lower part of your face. 

If you’re wanting to make a change and convert to reusable masks, take a look at the Victoria Eggs range here, with the option to even grab yourself a pack for all the family.

Forget coordinating Christmas pyjamas, matchy matchy masks are the way forward we think. After all, tis’ the season to be sustainable.

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