Unmasking the damage

Single-use masks are becoming a concern for the environment’s safety


Photo by Paige Fortney

These kinds of masks are seen being worn daily by billions of people, and that number can quickly add up. Disposable masks are meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs. However, they don’t filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs and sneezes. As you can see from this photo, the edges of the mask are not designed to form a tight seal around the nose and mouth.

Paige Fortney, Staff Reporter

At the beginning of this year, we would’ve taken a double take at anyone wearing a full face covering while out shopping or simply walking in a public space. Today, we take a double take at anyone who’s not wearing a mask. 

Over the course of this COVID-19 pandemic, face masks have become a new addition to our everyday lives. Cloth and paper masks, bandanas, scarves and even hand towels are just a few examples of the many different types of face coverings people have used. The most damaging of them all: disposable masks. 

These single-use masks are not only less effective than cloth ones, but they are also extremely disastrous to the environment. Many of these disposable masks are created with long lasting plastic which then ends up in oceans and landfills. Some of these coverings are even made up of plastic that have a life span from decades to hundreds of years. According to EARTH.org, an environmental nonprofit organization, OceansAsia reported that they found heaps of discarded single-use masks washed up on a 100-meter stretch of beach. 

Gary Stokes, founder of the NGO, stated “Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the general population have all taken the precaution of wearing surgical masks. When you suddenly have a population of seven million people wearing one to two masks per day, the amount of trash generated is going to be substantial.”

The single-use masks are a popular choice among the population due to their cheap price and convenience. These are available to purchase on Amazon, Walmart, and just about any grocery store near you. Disposable coverings come in bulk, containing around 50 to 100 individual masks. Buying a large box of masks seems unnecessary to me when you could buy one high quality mask to use over a long period of time. 

Personally, I feel like the cloth masks are much more comfortable and protective. They’re also super easy to wash and then like brand new again. The disposable masks also seem to never fit correctly, and they are more irritating on my face. The CDC also recommends the use of cloth instead of single-use masks out in public areas. 

It’s estimated that the global use and disposal of these masks will total to 129 billion for each month of the pandemic, according to BBC News. If these were disposed of properly, they wouldn’t be as big of an issue. These face coverings have been found outside of cars, next to trash cans, and even left in empty shopping carts. Mind the fact that many of these are used masks which causes health concerns for those near it if exposed. The FDA states that the correct way to discard a surgical mask is to place it in a plastic bag and then put it in a trash bin. Following that, immediately wash your hands after touching the used mask. 

Once these face coverings are out in the open, they can be swept into lakes, oceans and rivers nearby. As stated by TheConversation.com, Some animals also cannot tell the difference between plastic items and their prey, subsequently choking on pieces of litter. And even more, tiny critters can become tangled and trapped in these as well. So not only is the environment being harmed, but wildlife is also put into danger.

Although these simple, one-time use face coverings are offered at many stores and building entrances, consider carrying a reusable one on you. By just making this easy change, it can help stop the waste that is being put into the planet. The less masks that are disposed of, the less damage there is to the environment.