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Let’s wear masks more responsibly

Masks aren't going anywhere anytime soon and that means the pressure that the single-use masks are going to put on the planet is only going to increase.

Masks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and that means the pressure that the single-use masks are going to put on the planet is only going to increase.

In December last year, Oceans Asia, a Hong Kong-based organization released a report estimating that 1.56 billion face masks will have flooded the oceans by the end of 2020. And that’s just a small fraction of the total plastic waste generated each year, but a significant number nevertheless.

Last week, when the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced extended mask mandates for schools, with students from grades 4 to 12 being asked to wear non-medical masks, the school districts in the province immediately jumped into action. They passed on Henry’s announcement and several school districts also said that disposable masks will be available in school for those students who forget to carry their own masks.

Such disposable masks are also often available at grocery stores and other retail outlets to ensure patrons are able to come in even if they forget their masks.

It immediately got me thinking on how much more plastic waste all this adds up to. Now while this pandemic is already a lot to deal with, we don’t want an environmental disaster following the end of the pandemic.

So what are some of the things we can do to ensure we don’t go from crisis into another?

First is to give preference to cloth masks or reusable masks whenever possible. It is okay to use a disposable mask if you forget your mask or if you are in a setting where you are required to wear a disposable mask, but in all other cases, carry a cloth mask or two with you.

If you do end up using the disposable mask, make sure you are cutting out the straps so that birds and fish don’t get stuck in those straps.

Second, check to see if your region has a dedicated masks’ collection anywhere or in case any companies, who believe in circular economy would want to take the bulk of your masks to use to rebuild something else. There are already several companies cropping up all over the world who are doing amazing work from finding ways to disinfect masks for reuse to finding ways to melt the masks and fuse them to turn them into bottles, gym equipments etc. So a litttle internet research and a joint community effort could definitely lead us down to path of “greater good”.

Finally, make sure you don’t throw the masks out on the streets and if you see any strewn about, pick them up, dispose them properly in a nearby trash can and then sanitize your hands.

While it is important to be safe and continue following guidelines set out by health officers on wearing masks, it is also extremely important for us to ensure we are not destroying the planet in the process.

So, let’s all wear masks, more responsibly.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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