Everyone has seen a mask on the pavement, in the dirt, on the beach, the environmental impact of the pandemic is more and more evident every day. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of keeping ourselves healthy, but it would be negligent of us to not understand the impact that personal protective equipment has on the environment. Our choices, no matter how small, affect the world around us.
What are masks made of?
Mask fabric is made from Polypropylene, a type of plastic. Mask ear loops are made from Nylon, also a type of plastic. The mask nose strip is commonly made from aluminium. Individually all these raw components are recyclable, and quite accessibly so. Afterall, things like milk cartons and ketchup bottles are made from Polypropylene and soda cans are made from aluminium, very commonly recyclable materials.
Does this mean masks are recyclable?
In theory yes, but in practice no. The problem is that these components have very different methods for recycling. To separate all the components of a mask to recycle them is unfortunately unviable. This means that a properly disposed mask is most likely to end up in the landfill or incinerators.
The case for reusable cloth masks.
Reusable masks sell themselves on their environmental friendliness. The math seems simple, I use one thing multiple times, instead of multiple things one time, it must be better. However the truth is many factors are not considered. Forgetting the origin of these reusable masks and what they are made from, if you are putting in a filter into your masks, the plastic use is exactly the same. Some filters may claim that they can be used for longer, but that is simply not true, as we discussed in our blog post here.
There is one additional environmental impact that you have to consider, which is the water used for washing the fabric mask. 1 Litre of water use emits 0.298 grams of emissions, making the total emissions of a using a reusable mask with filter higher than that of a disposable mask.
How can I lower my plastic use while still protecting myself?
The reality is there is nothing that stops particles like polypropylene. It now comes down to picking the right type of mask. KF94, N95 style masks use more material in the end product and in the production (to create that shape excess fabric is cut off and wasted). Standard surgical style masks on the other hand use 100% of the fabric and weigh less than KF94 and N95. Individual packaging of masks increases the amount of plastic used by 50%, instead consider getting a paper pouch or holder to bring additional masks on the go.
Will the world recover?
Truthfully, mask production is an infinitesimally small part of the ongoing environmental crisis. One litre of gasoline emits 2.4kg of carbon, the equivalent of 141 masks. Thinking to sacrifice your health and your community’s health for the sake of the environment is fundamentally irrelevant. If you want an end to mask pollution, the pandemic must end. Which paradoxically means wear a mask, any mask, as long as it has a filtration layer, and get vaccinated.
Airizy creates the comfiest, most breathable and lightest surgical style mask on the market. Using special mask design, we exceed the comfort of a KN94 mask while also offering customization so you can make your mask truly yours. Shop Here.