Disposable Masks Must Go
Guest Op-Ed by ARCC Student Amra Mustafic
Evidently, face masks have become a necessity in today’s pandemic-struck world. Seeing everyone around you wearing face masks in public is a hopeful, heart-warming feeling. However, disposable medical masks, one of the most popular choices for face masks, aren’t as beneficial as you might think they are in terms of their effect on our planet.
While saving millions of lives from COVID-19, disposable masks are terrible for the environment. THE UN Environment Program (UNEP) stated that if this large increase of disposable, single-use plastics isn’t handled properly it may result in uncontrolled dumping (United Nations, 2020). Not only is it increasing pollution, an infected surgical mask can spread the virus to people and animals. “In certain conditions, the virus can survive on a plastic surgical mask for seven days” (Roberts, 2021).
The use of these disposable has become so normalized that most people don’t even think twice about using them. With many countries putting nation-wide mask mandates on public places, surgical masks (which can now be found at gas stations and free at the entrances to many buildings) have become a common way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
A quick Google search can expose the dangers these disposable masks can cause long-term damage to animals and plants. Smothered environments and ecosystems forcefully broken up are a couple results of large amounts of plastic waste. Smaller animals can become entangled or suffocate in the material of disposable masks; Larger animals can also eat bits and pieces of these masks and over time become malnourished from their stomachs filling up with plastic waste (Roberts, 2021).
Larger issues like this one usually take a significant amount of time to research and come up with the best solution, but with disposable masks, our answer has been right under our noses since the beginning of this pandemic: Reusable face masks.
A reusable face mask is any face mask that can be infinitely washed and worn again. They’re more stylish, better for the environment, and catered to your exact preferences. They come in every color, style, thickness and material you could ask for. A lot of these reusable masks also have slots for (reusable) filters that can be inserted for extra protection. These reusable masks aren’t hard to get your hands on, either. Almost every single retail store I’ve been to since the pandemic is selling reusable face masks: Target, Walmart, Ulta, and Pacsun are just a few.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already made the switch from disposable to reusable, and if you haven’t, it’s your turn. Say goodbye to our beloved medical masks that have gotten us through the pandemic thus far and make room for the reusable fashion statements so many have already adopted.
“Five Things You Should Know about Disposable Masks and Plastic Pollution | | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, 30 July 2020, news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1069151#:~:text=The%20potential%20consequences%2C%20says%20UNEP,transmission%20of%20diseases%20to%20humans.
Roberts, Keiron Philip, et al. “Coronavirus Face Masks: an Environmental Disaster That Might Last Generations.” The Conversation, 14 Jan. 2021, theconversation.com/coronavirus-face-masks-an-environmental-disaster-that-might-last-generations-144328.