During the lockdown in the spring, the world was able to take a deep breath of fresh air as life came to a screeching halt. Cars and trucks were not being driven, factories paused production, and life slowed down. All of this added up to a huge decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and each of us could breathe easier for a while.
Now, as we have begun to live a little bit more “normally,” the world is facing another pollution problem: disposable face masks. Face masks are absolutely crucial to preventing the spread of Covid-19. Please use a face mask, disposable or otherwise, anytime you are in public and always follow local rules and regulations.
With that being said, the world is currently going through an estimated 129 billion disposable face masks a month and another 65 billion disposable gloves a month. Yes, those figures are how much the world, collectively, is using a month. Those numbers are staggering to me, and I know all of the new face mask waste combined with all of the additional plastic bags being distributed at stores because reusables are not allowed at many places, the amount of waste the world is accumulating is enormous.
The good news is that disposable face masks are entirely avoidable. Cloth face masks are equally effective and are easy to find. They are machine washable and can go into the dryer, so as you wear them just throw them in with your dirty laundry! For my family of five, I have acquired many cloth face masks from different places: handmade from friends, bought on Etsy and the Gap, and I found inexpensive ones at Target too!
I started collecting as many as possible because I never want to feel stressed about not having any clean ones available. I put a basket in my mudroom so that whenever someone leaves the house, they can just grab one and head out. Upon return, the masks go into the dirty laundry. This new system in my house has worked quite well, and it truly has become a habit for each of us.
Each reusable face mask your family uses will indeed help reduce waste, as each of our actions add up. If you do use disposable face masks or find yourself in a position that you must use one, please ensure you discard of it properly when you are finished with it, which means placing it securely into the trash. Disposable face masks are light and are easily carried by the wind, which means they will start showing up in our waterways along with the other plastic pollution we already have.