Photo submitted by Shay Boo from Boo Creative
There is a statewide mask mandate in Minnesota and in 33 other states. While disposable masks are convenient, they have a harsh impact on the environment. They can end up in the ocean small sea animals can get tangled up in the elastics, animals may also eat them thinking they are food and this can cause them to choke on it. The majority of disposable masks are made from plastic, which will stay around on the earth for hundreds of years.
Americans put 129 billion masks into the environment each month we deal with COVID-19. Even if people throw them away in the trash, they can still make their way into the ocean and hurt marine life. Sales for plastic masks are estimated to be $166 billion by the end of the year.
It is predicted that 75% of masks, gloves and other pandemic related waste is going to end up in landfills or floating in the oceans. Not only can this harm marine life, and just animals in general, it can be quite harmful to humans as well. Used and infected masks can be sometimes burned, releasing harmful toxins into the air, or if humans are to interact with the used masks it can lead to secondary transmissions of a disease.
Disposable masks and other pandemic waste are making a bigger impact on our Earth than people realize. Animals often mistake masks and gloves for food filling their stomachs with plastic giving them no nutrients at all. Disposable masks that end up in the ocean can harm marine life, they can get tangled in the elastics on masks, or even try to eat them and choke. Although animals are being harmed, humans are actually being harmed as well. COVID-19 and other viruses can stay on a disposable mask for up to a week. People could spread a virus from their masks without even knowing when they pick them off the group to throw away or when they reuse a disposable mask.
If no action is taken plastic waste in the ocean will have tripled by 2040, from 11 to 20 million tons.
“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” Pamela Coke-Hamilton said, United Nations conference and trade development’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”
The world is already holding an overwhelming amount of plastic, all of the pandemic waste is just adding more at an alarming rate.
A way to help slow the spread, but also reduce the amount of plastic waste going into the environment is to use a reusable or cloth mask. These are masks made from fabric, that can be washed and worn again. Along with being better for the environment these are much more inexpensive in the long run.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “A cloth mask is intended to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it.”
A cloth mask is much better for the environment and is much cheaper. A box of disposable masks can cost anywhere from $10-$30 and you have to repurchase them after wearing them, where a cloth mask costs around $5 and wear it as many times as you want.
These masks and gloves are made from non-biodegradable material that will take hundreds of years to break down. The best and safest way to dispose of the masks is to cut the elastics that go behind your ears, preventing small animals from getting tangled up in them. Or simply throw them away in garbage you know will get knotted up so they don’t have a chance to blow away into the environment. Another solution is to get a reusable mask and wash after each use, limiting the amount of pandemic related waste being creating.
“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak, the sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”
Pamela Coke-Hamilton, United Nations conference and trade development’s director of international trade.