Disposable Face Masks the new Plastics!

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on disposable face masks and the huge environmental impact on our planet!

Since the Covid-19 pandemic officially began in March this year in the UK, capitalists have taken advantage of the crisis to boost their profits along with Westminster Tory MP’s, who have given contracts to their mates and relatives in billions of pounds at the expense of the tax payer. During this pandemic the need for protective equipment has increased among the general public while also increasing plastic pollution. A research that was conducted by shopping comparison website, finder.com found that over half of the people surveyed were using single-use blue surgical face mask. If you take into account that each individual may use at least two masks a day, the UK could be sending as many as 55 million single use face masks to landfill every single day! If you want to understand what that actually means, it’s that we are using enough face masks that weigh the same weight as 100 cars per day. In March, the World Health Organisation estimated that 89 million additional disposable masks were needed globally per month in medical settings to combat COVID-19.

Disposable masks are the new plastic bags and the coronavirus pandemic is increasing the consumption of single-use masks, most of which are made from polypropylene, a form of plastic. Many environmentalist have warned that there is already a surge in disposable face masks and gloves floating like jellyfish across the Mediterranean along with the usual plastic litter of bags, cups and cans.  As much as 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into oceans each year and this estimate is based on a report called “The state of plastic: World Environment Day Outlook 2018” published in 2018 by the UN Environment programme. The report highlights why plastic is used so much (cheap, lightweight and easy to make), only a tiny fraction is recycled while 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans every year, harming biodiversity, economies and potentially our health. This paper sets out the latest thinking on how we can achieve this. It looks at what governments, businesses and individuals can do to check the runaway production and consumption of plastic.

Fast forward to November 2020 and this report findings has only got worse. If the global population adheres to a standard of one disposable face mask per day after lockdown ends, the pandemic could result in a monthly global consumption and waste of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves. As masks are likely to be part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future, we could do our bit to keep ourselves and other safe by reducing the use of plastic by following these simple steps; choosing reusable masks without disposable filters is a sensible way to help the environment and even keep costs down. Machine wash them regularly and carry a spare when out and about in case of damage to the one you are wearing. If you do need to use a disposable mask, take it home and put it into a bin with a lid. If this isn’t possible, place it in a proper public bin. Don’t put disposable masks in the recycling. They can get caught in specialist recycling equipment and can be a potential biohazard to waste workers and finally do not flush masks down the toilet.

Stay safe and let’s keep our environment clean and safe too!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 13th November 2020.