While we are all trying our hardest to protect our loved ones, we must not forget about protecting our environment. There are many simple things we can do to care for the planet while also minimising the impact of the pandemic.
Since the early months of 2020, it has become common to see masks lying discarded on the ground, in parks, on beaches and in other public places. With hygiene so essential at this time, people are understandably wary of clearing up other people’s rubbish, so discarded masks often remain where they are dropped. This creates a problem with rubbish as well as an added infection risk.
To prevent litter, single-use masks should be disposed of properly. They cannot be recycled and so should be placed in general waste.
Unfortunately, single-use masks are typically made from polypropylene. As it is a plastic made from fossil fuels, they will take hundreds of years to break down. A far better alternative for ordinary members of the public is to use a re-usable mask. According to experts, they are just as effective as their plastic counterparts, and better for the environment as they can be worn again and again after a thorough clean. Both the UK government and the World Health Organization advise that most people should buy re-usable face coverings rather than relying on disposable, single-use masks.
Organic cotton is an excellent, highly absorbent material that works well at catching water droplets. Three layers of cotton are recommended for optimum effectiveness. Cotton is also more comfortable on the skin than artificial fibres. It’s readily re-usable and because it’s organic, no pesticides will have been used to grow it. It is also easier to iron!
For now, organic cotton is one of the best, most sustainable options that ordinary members of the public can choose. However, other products are in development; the University of British Colombia is in the process of developing a bio-degradable mask made from wood fibres. With further innovation like this across the world, our new normal can become more eco-friendly.
Face coverings play an important role in reducing the risk of infection and so too does regular hand-washing. The best advice is to use soap and water wherever possible because this will kill and remove viruses, and it doesn’t require the use of very much plastic packaging. Sometimes, however, there just isn’t access to running water, in which case the next best choice is to use hand sanitiser. This can be used on the move or in indoor environments such as offices, schools and public buildings, by high risk areas such as doorways, stairwells, lifts and escalators.
Together we can keep our world and each other safe.