The real cost of disposable masks
There's a much greater cost to disposable masks than just the ongoing expense of purchasing large quantities for everyday use. While intended to be a convenient and hygienic solution for medical professionals, many consumers have taken to using disposable surgical masks on a day-to-day basis for protection from a range of contaminants including pollution, dust, viruses, and bacteria. Here we take a look at some of the detrimental effects of long-term disposable mask use and the key reasons why you should consider switching to a reusable mask for your daily protection.
The most obvious impact of disposable masks is environmental waste. Most manufacturers recommend using a mask for no longer than one day, resulting in a significant amount of non-recyclable waste over time. Not only does this obviously increase the amount of waste in landfill, but when not properly disposed of, used masks can end up in ocean, rivers, and on beaches. This waste is not just from the masks themselves, as often masks are individually wrapped in plastic packaging, adding to the amount of landfill produced by each mask.
Increased use of disposable masks during the recent pandemic has led to more enviornmental waste
The main material used to make surgical masks is in fact a non-woven polymer and therefore by definition a single-use plastic. The threat of contamination makes masks unsuitable for re-use or recycling, meaning they inevitably end up being thrown away as trash. The material can take several decades to break down, releasing toxins in the process and adding to the amount of waste plastic in landfill, waterways, and oceans.
The production and distribution of disposable masks is a carbon-intensive process made more harmful by their single-use nature, which increases the volume of emissions due to the large number produced to meet demand. From materials production, to individual packaging, to distribution, each part of the process produces a large amount of carbon for an item which is essentially only used for a short period of time.
"The production and distribution of disposable masks is a carbon-intensive process made more harmful by their single-use nature"
Harm to animals
As with many disposable items—especially plastics—the potential for harm to animals is a serious problem for masks. Not only can masks be consumed by both land and marine animals, but the elasticized ear loops are particularly dangerous in terms of entanglement of animals' limbs, mouths, and other body parts. If you absolutely do have to use a disposable mask, we highly recommend that you cut the ear loops before disposal to reduce the potential for it to cause injury, or even death to animals.
There is no arguing that single-use masks are an essential form of protection for medical professionals and can also be a last resort for consumers who need to protect themselves from potential hazards. However due to the potential for negative environmental impact, it is highly recommended to seek a more sustainable long-term solution in the form of a quality disposable mask.