The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of our lives this year. Many people struggled with health and financial issues, and all of that combined with the social distancing measures have taken a toll on the mental health of many people. But, a problem that might go unnoticed is the negative effects the use of face masks can have on our environment.
As you may know, hospitals and other types of healthcare centers need face masks in large quantities, and they buy them in bulk and wholesale to protect their workers. However, the amount of supplies needed has been so high that face masks have even been hard to find for sale online.
The water pollution disposable face masks are already showing in some parts of the world, including the United States. In this article, we’ll explain what a disposable face mask is, why they’re necessary, and which countries are experiencing water pollution because of them.
What constitutes a disposable face masks?
The name of these types of masks is pretty self-explanatory. They are not reusable and have to be removed and discarded after the user finishes wearing them. The materials used to manufacture them isn’t very resistant, and that makes them lose efficiency as they’re being used. They also can’t endure regular cleaning methods, which is why they’re not easily decontaminated.
As a result of the pandemic and the high demand for these masks in the healthcare field, many strategies and processes have been developed and approved to decontaminate and reuse disposable face masks. This has been a prominent topic of discussion throughout the year.
The most used disposable face masks during the pandemic
Let’s start with the most common and recognizable ones: surgical masks. These are the masks you’ve probably seen being used by doctors or nurses and even dentists during certain procedures. They offer protection for the wearer and those around them and are a staple in the healthcare field.
Their protective properties come in the form of a physical barrier, which prevents fluids and other potentially contaminated materials released during the procedures from being in contact with the mouth and nose of the wearer. In the same way, they prevent the wearer from contaminating the environment with the respiratory fluids they release while breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing.
However, for virus protection, the real protagonists this year have been N95 masks. These are also known as N95 respirators and are considered the best face mask for antiviral purposes during the pandemic in the healthcare field, making them the most sought after item in hospitals since the pandemic began.
These great antiviral properties come from the fact that these respirators have no oil resistance and a filtration rate of 95%, which makes them ideal for particles like the flu virus, the coronavirus, and other types of bioaerosols. They’re not only used in the healthcare field, and have multiple uses in other industries, as they can also filter out dust, smoke, among other particles.
KN95 masks are also disposable face mask widely used during the pandemic, and people usually think they’re the same as N95 masks. Even though they have very similar names and work with the same efficiency of 95% for non-oil based particles, KN95 masks are regulated in China and N95 masks in the USA.
What countries are experiencing water pollution due to masks
Water pollution has been a prominent problem since the pandemic began, although with other more alarming problems happening because of the pandemic, it has gone unnoticed by many and people don’t talk about this enough.
Some of the most shocking stories regarding this problem came from Hong Kong, where more than 70 masks were already found in February a long-only 100 meters of shoreline, and then a week later 30 more appeared. This is the result of face masks not being disposed of properly, causing severe troubles in the marine life as they mistake them for food.
Just a month after being in lockdown, another story about a city in Greece, Kalamata, with countless face masks, gloves, wipes, and empty bottles of sanitizer flooded the streets of the mostly empty streets. Similar sights had been seen in New York and London, which are bigger cities.
However, the story about the Soko Islands, situated a few miles from Hong Kong, resonated with several environmental groups as hundreds of face masks were found washed up on the shores.
If all of this happened at the beginning of the pandemic, we can only imagine what the oceans are looking like right now over 10 months later. But, the news is mainly focused on other problems right now.
How to prevent this from happening
Little changes in our daily lives can make a difference, and here are a few tips to help reduce the water pollution from face masks:
- Disposable face masks are, for the moment, necessary in hospitals and healthcare settings. However, the general public can stay protected with reusable cloth masks without removable filters.
- Keep a spare cloth mask with you at all times to avoid the need to buy a disposable one in case something happens to yours.
- If you need to use a disposable face mask, don’t litter! Put it in a bag after you take it off and place it in a trash can.
To make sure we’re all helping reduce the water pollution the pandemic is creating, the general public can stay protected with reusable cloth masks, which are the recommended face mask for protection by the CDC. These are widely available and are not used in healthcare settings. They can also be made easily at home and be worn by kids above the age of 2.