Face masks have been an indispensable line of defense during the coronavirus pandemic. But what happens when we try to throw away a billion of them at once?
The world's seas and shorelines are no strangers to pollution; for decades they've been strewn with plastic bottles, cigarette butts, and other sorts of disposable debris. But in the past few months, a new type of waste has joined this pollution: personal protective equipment. It turns out that humanity has inadvertently caused an ecological crisis in the midst of dealing with a global health one. Face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer containers are washing up on shores all over the world.
Recent studies estimate that as many as 1.6 billion disposable face masks entered our oceans in 2020. Collectively, this adds up to around 5,000 or 6,000 tons. And like many other plastic materials, they could linger in the sea for as long as 500 years before dissolving into microplastics, a whole other type of problem. This not only threatens the health of marine creatures but humans as well.
Every single member of the Gaiter King team loves nature. When we're not working on our face masks and neck gaiters, you can probably find us enjoying the great outdoors. With that said, if you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: Please stop using disposable coronavirus protection and invest in a reusable option.
Disposable Face Masks Have a Second Life at Sea
Hong Kong-based organization OceansAsia was one of the first to shine a light on pandemic pollution when it discovered 70 face masks within only a few hundred feet of each other on the island of Soko. Each time the organization has visited the island since then, the situation seems to worsen.
As the masks spend more time in this environment, they get torn and covered in algae, making it easier for nearby animals to believe that they are food. When they're in the water, predators may mistake them for jellyfish. And the elastic straps that accompany these disposable masks are prone to entangling animals.
Improper face mask disposal represents only a fraction of the 11 million tons of plastic pollution that humanity unleashes on our oceans each year. But whether you're at the beach or taking a stroll in your neighborhood, it's hard not to find a discarded face mask among the usual litter you'd encounter. Obviously, we should all be using reusable face masks whenever we can. And if we have to use a disposable one, it's imperative that we dispose of it properly.
Improper Disposal = More Plastic In the Environment
Humanity is currently going through 129 billion disposable face masks per month — that equates to three million per minute! To put this in perspective, we go through roughly 43 billion plastic bottles per month. And to make matters worse, while we have well-known guidelines for recycling these objects, we don't exactly have the same information in widespread circulation for disposable face masks. That makes it much more likely for them to end up in the trash.
When a plastic object is improperly disposed of, such as being discarded in the trash, it eventually is broken down into tiny pieces of plastic that then spread out in water and soil. These microplastics make their way into animals and even humans.
As if this whole situation wasn't problematic enough, researchers Zhiyong Jason Ren of Princeton and Elvis Genbo Xu of the University of Southern Denmark say that the specifications of face masks make them more likely to contribute to pollution. According to Ren and Xu, face masks are constructed from microplastic fibers approximately 1 to 10 micrometers thick. This translates to a quicker degradation period, so they release microplastic particles faster than common items like a plastic bag.
Use Reusable Face Masks for Coronavirus Protection
It's no secret that plastic pollution is horrible for our planet. Animals that confuse bits of plastic for food end up filling up on this material and starving since they don't get the nutrients they actually need. And even if it doesn't kill the animal, it can cause an assortment of ailments.
Now, let's pretend you're an individual who claims that you don't care about Earth's wildlife. Well, numerous studies are discovering that people are consuming increasing amounts of plastic, too. The chemicals in this plastic are associated with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other maladies.
There's no doubt that face masks offer an immense benefit in protecting us from the coronavirus. But if we're not careful, they could end up causing several undesirable side effects for our environment, the animals in it, and our health.
The bottom line? Invest in reusable face mask protection. Gaiter King's face masks and neck gaiters are built to last more than 100 washes without losing antimicrobial effectiveness. Find out why working professionals across industries like construction, logistics, agriculture, and energy trust our products to get the job done.
Want durable neck gaiters or face masks that offer antimicrobial and antiviral protection? Check out our shop!