The Problem with Disposable Masks: Plastic Waste
In just a few short months, face masks have gone from being used only as personal protective equipment in medical and industrial contexts to being made compulsory by the government as a public health measure.
Using a face mask in enclosed or crowded spaces is one way of limiting the spread of the virus, but there is an environmental cost to the surge in use of disposable face masks worldwide during the Covid-19 crisis.
Masks for medical workers - N95 / FFP
In some situations, single use masks are necessary. N95 respirators are personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect the wearer, such as medical staff who are in close contact with infected patients. They have to be discarded after each use as they are very likely to become contaminated, but everyone would agree that the safety of front-line health workers has to be a top priority.
Masks for the general population - fabric masks
However, the use of masks as a public health measure is not the same as PPE. When masks are worn in crowded or enclosed spaces, transmission of the virus is reduced a different way – the most important effect is to protect those around the wearer of the mask by limiting the number of respiratory droplets spread into the air by breathing and talking. In a crowded street or shop, you are protected by everyone else’s mask, and they are protected by yours.
In this context, N95 respirators are not necessary – a hygienic fabric mask is recommended. This government guide explains the difference between the different kinds of masks and who should use them. For people without symptoms, a hygienic fabric mask is recommended.
Think of the environment when you choose your mask
If everyone followed this advice, we wouldn’t see discarded face masks littering our streets and beaches. But unfortunately, some people are choosing to wear N95 respirators or disposable surgical masks to go out to for their daily walks. As well as being unsightly, this plastic waste adds to the eight million tons of plastic which ends up in our oceans each year, with terrible consequences for marine life and even human health.
Wearing a mask is now compulsory, but we have a choice about what kind of mask we wear. Think of the environment when you choose your mask, and either make you own, or buy a hygienic fabric mask from MasksForAll – you can see our full range, including children’s sizes, here.