How To Be Mindful Of Mask Pollution
Officials have lifted mask restrictions in many locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t voluntarily protect yourself and others. Evidence exists showing that doing so safeguards you somewhat, even if you’re the only person in the room taking action.
However, the pandemic has resulted in an additional crisis – an environmental one. Disposable masks now litter even the most pristine mountain wildernesses, left behind by careless travelers. Here’s how to be mindful of mask pollution while staying safe.
1. Remove them correctly
If you’re certified in first aid and CPR, you might know the procedure for removing plastic gloves without exposing yourself to bloodborne pathogens. Did you know that it’s equally important to remove your mask the right way?
The front of your mask itself is contaminated. Avoid touching it during removal – touch only the bands or ties holding it in place whenever possible. Please wait to remove disposable versions until you’re next to a garbage receptacle. Littering can spread infection and send masks into the ecosystem, harming wildlife.
2. Go cloth
You do your part to save the planet by taking your cloth bags to the grocery store. Why not extend the same principle to your face covering? While you should washcloth masks after each use, you can reuse them perpetually – or until wear and tear creates holes. You might want to stock up if you haven’t already to reduce your laundry burden and save water.
Does it matter what fabric you use? Researchers at the University of New South Wales tackled this question using a high-speed video camera to capture droplets released from sneezes. They found that models with an inner layer of cotton or linen, a middle layer of a cotton/polyester blend, and an outer layer of polyester or nylon did the best job and stopped germ spread more effectively than surgical models.
Fortunately, cloth masks become more effective with each wash. Why? Shrinkage minimizes pore size, denying more germs entry. When you spring clean your closets, consider repurposing some of those old shirts into masks, cutting your carbon footprint in two ways: keeping that T-shirt out of the landfill and reducing disposable mask use.
3. Reuse when possible
During the peak outbreak, hospitals generated more than 240 tons of waste. We can do our part as mindful citizens to avoid contributing to that waste by reusing our masks when we can. In general, you should only use disposable masks once before placing them into a covered receptacle. However, balance your desire to reduce disease risk with your concern for the planet and use your best judgment.
It’s okay to reuse a mask that’s only seen light duty, such as running to the grocery store or dropping your clothes at the cleaners. However, reusing the same one over and over could make you sick from bacteria and viruses trapped on the surface. Therefore, don’t keep reusing the same one for weeks – but it’s okay to don the same one at multiple stores during the same shopping excursion, taking it off in your car between stops.
4. Consider eco-friendly models
You may have no choice but to opt for a disposable mask instead of a cloth one. For example, your job may require it. However, you have more eco-friendly options than the standard big blue box.
Vida’s FDA-registered KN95 masks are ideal for folks with health concerns that elevate their risks from severe infection. They come with prepaid return labels so you can send your used ones back to the manufacturer to be recycled. Turmerry ships their masks in Sustainable Forestry Initiative-certified cardboard boxes sourced from sustainable forests free of clear-cutting and pesticides.
5. Cut the loops
Do you remember learning how to cut the plastic rings that hold six-packs together so they don’t choke sea turtles and baby ducks if they end up in the water? The same principle applies to masks. Although proper disposal is your best safeguard against disposable masks ending up in the ocean, you should still go the extra mile.
Please cut the loops on your disposable masks before you throw them away. Many versions tear fairly easily, making it possible to reduce risk even if you don’t have scissors handy.
6. Find the right receptacle
Finally, please ensure the receptacle you choose has a liner and a closing lid. The liner prevents germs on your mask from transferring to the garbage can. Closing lids keep your used masks from growing wings and flying away on the breeze, only to end up as toxic litter.
Sadly, you can’t recycle disposable masks through traditional means. They often contain chemicals that can damage most recycling center equipment, creating an even worse environmental disaster by preventing them from processing other materials. However, you can find mail-order recycling services that will send you a box. Once you fill it out, simply mail it back.
Staying safe while minding mask pollution
Masks serve a vital purpose during the pandemic. However, improper disposal has created an environmental catastrophe. You can take proactive steps to minimize your impact. Follow the six tips above to be mindful of mask pollution while staying safe.
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