A Rant Today About Disposable Face Masks

Disposable face coverings contain plastic and cannot be recycled

I wouldn't normally do this but I thought I'd have a bit of a rant today about disposable face masks.

I'm getting really tired and fed up of seeing disposable face masks littering the streets. The catalyst for writing this wasn't just the fact that I found myself having to pick up a littered, disposable mask from my front garden yesterday afternoon, but the fact that, also yesterday afternoon, I came across an article on a glossy magazine's website that was basically promoting disposable face masks because certain Hollywood celebrities have been spotted wearing them. Apparently, a disposable face mask company in the US re-stocked their website with 6 million masks. Let me say that again. 6 million disposable masks. Every single one of their masks will end up somewhere in the environment.

How can this be right? In times when the environment has never been more discussed and on our radar, I find it astounding how such high profile individuals and the glossy magazine have so knowingly promoted such a highly disposable item.

What would Sir David Attenborough or Greta Thunberg say?

I believe we all understand that the public will potentially be asked to wear face coverings for quite some time yet, so it's even more important that we act responsibly. From an economical point of view, buying disposable face masks is a false economy, as it's far more efficient, from a pence-per-wear perspective, to wash and reuse cotton or silk masks.

Environmentally, the cost of disposable masks is enormous... far greater than the actual cost of the mask itself. You just need to walk down the street and count the number of disposable masks haphazardly thrown in the bush, squashed down in the mud on the ground or half hanging out of the bin. Multiply this street by thousands of streets around the world and you get the picture.

Disposable masks also contain polypropylene plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them. According to an article on the BBC, Laura Foster, the Marine Conservation Society's head of clean seas, said, "Just look at rivers such as the Thames and you'll see them floating by. When they're whole, wildlife's going to get tangled in it or the plastic's going to be ingested. They aren't going to biodegrade either, although they will break up, introducing more microplastics into the sea and the food chain." It's worth noting here that the RSPCA are encouraging people to 'snip the straps' of disposable masks after use to prevent animals getting caught and tangled in them.

The official government guidance for England is to wear a reusable, washable face covering where possible. It also states that used disposable face coverings cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities and so they should be put into "black bag" waste bins "or a litter bin if you're outside". But the important bit of information here is that disposable face coverings cannot be recycled.

Perhaps the government need to come out and actually do something about disposable masks, when not used in a medical setting or for medical purposes? We only need to look at the plastic bag situation - and now plastic straws - to see that the only way to spark change is to take action.

I'm becoming very agitated and vocal amongst friends and family about how we, as a global population, can just sleep walk into issues. Perhaps sleep-walk isn't the right term to use, but we're so distracted, understandably, by macro concerns such as Covid, Politics, Brexit, etc etc, that we end up turning a blind eye to the smaller issues that are happening right in front of us.

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