Face masks come in many shapes and sizes. They are made from different materials, some of which are more environmentally friendly than others.
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our planet’s survival, and face masks contribute to this problem and make it worse. While there is no single solution to the plastic pollution problem, it comes down to individuals doing the right thing and limiting their plastic use. What can you do to help?
What are plastic face masks?
While disposable masks might look like they are made from fabric, they are part plastic. They contain a melt-down polymer, usually polypropylene, placed between layers of non-woven fabric.
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic, and its durable, rigid, and crystalline properties made it ideal for face masks to prevent airborne diseases from spreading. Disposable masks are also made using polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester.
Each of these materials used in disposable mask manufacture is manmade and involve the use of chemicals in their production. Furthermore, disposable masks should only be used once before they are thrown away.
Another face covering that many people use in the healthcare industry is plastic face shields. They protect the face from germs and other substances, preventing them from reaching the skin. These coverings are made using different plastics, including Perspex.
Damage to the environment
Plastics are not biodegradable and take hundreds of years to break down into tiny particles. Even when that happens, they form microplastics, which might be invisible to the naked eye. People inhale microplastics, and they can do considerable damage to the respiratory system.
Optimally Organic, manufacturers of quality organic face masks, is concerned by how disposable face masks are destroyed after use. They often find their way into our oceans, where they trap sea animals and kill them. Even if they were to break down into microplastics, their presence in the sea is a danger to humans, as the fish that make their way onto dinner tables worldwide consume them.
Are plastic masks necessary?
The use of disposable masks in a medical setting is undebatable, but experts wonder if they are necessary for ordinary citizens. Instead, they propose using fabric face masks that are fully washable and reusable. These masks act as a functional barrier for the nose and mouth in ordinary settings, such as churches, schools, and public events.
By using fabric face masks, you and your family can reduce the amount of plastic waste caused by disposable mask usage. Additionally, you can choose different patterns, which makes getting kids to wear a mask easier. Experts recommend that the use of 100% cotton in the manufacture of fabric face masks.
Are disposable masks safe?
Designed for a one-off use, a disposable face mask loses its efficacy after being used once or twice. They do not wash well as non-woven fabric tends to start disintegrating upon contact with water.
This allows germs and viruses to cling onto the material. Unfortunately, many citizens cannot afford a new disposable face mask every day, and they wind up using one for days on end. This negates the purpose of wearing a mask.
Fabric masks are better as they are washable, and the heat from ironing or tumble drying destroy any remaining bacteria. This is not to mention that they are far more environmentally friendly and will not contribute to the planet’s continued pollution.
If citizens switch to fabric face masks, the demand will drop, leading to lower production, thereby minimizing how many are dumped each day, and the chemical processes of manufacturing the polypropylene they contain.