Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) has become essential to our day-to-day lives. We couldn’t leave the house without masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant products. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were living in a germophobe’s apocalypse!
The Mask Outbreak
For years, masks were all we could think about. Making sure that before you leave the house, you are being as safe and protected as possible. What we weren’t thinking about, was the effect these masks would have on our planet.
Mask mandates around the world led to an explosion of plastic litter: 52 billion disposable face masks were produced in 2020, caused by a massive demand shock. All factories began producing masks at full capacity, as their first and only priority.
Disposable Doesn’t Mean Gone
Of these 52 billion masks, 1.6 billion them ended up in our oceans in 2020. This amounts to roughly 5,500 tons of plastic pollution - purely caused by face masks and face shields.
These masks are made up of polypropylene. The same type of plastic that is found in plastic bottles, containers and toys. The same type of plastic takes over 450 years to fully decompose.
Compared to other common plastics, these disposable masks are ranked with disposable diapers and plastic bottles, taking the longest to biodegrade. Styrofoam cups and plastic bags are less harmful than the masks we relied on for the past two years.
This pandemic has lasted for 2 years now and is arguably still running its course. However, since the mask mandate has been lifted, manufacturing companies have slowed their production process. Unfortunately, the slowed-down production will have no impact on the masks that have already made their way into our ecosystems.
Now, it is our responsibility to reverse the impact of disposable masks. It is our duty to properly recycle these masks to prevent them from entering our ecosystems. They may have protected us from the pandemic, but now it is our time to protect our Earth from the plastic pandemic!