The right choice for the environment: disposable or reusable masks?

One issue that is increasingly attracting public attention is pollution from "covid waste". The protagonists of this new source of pollution are the disposable masks which are difficult to recycle and which are rapidly dispersing into the environment, causing serious damage. Although essential for the health of the population, they are extremely harmful to the ecosystem. Let's find out more about the impact of masks and possible solutions.

DISPOSABLE MASKS: WASTE FROM COVID

There is an aspect of the pandemic that is very easily overlooked, but that many organizations and associations have recently tried to bring to public attention: the environmental impact. In the course of the health emergency, a series of "covid waste" has been created, which was previously a marginal problem. Among these we can find latex gloves disposable latex glovesbut above all the disposable masks which have become indispensable for the protection of the population's health. The medical masks have a very short life and are difficult to recycle, in fact they are composed of several parts:

  • the fabric which is often actually polypropylene, i.e. a plastic material;
  • elastic bands;
  • the metal bar.

For a correct recycling or disposal of these materials should be separated and placed in the appropriate containers of the separate collection. This happens only in very rare cases, but what happens if the masks are not recycled?

CONSEQUENCES OF THE MASKS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

What happens if we let the disposable masks into the environment? Animals, especially marine animals, are among the first to suffer the consequences of this new source of pollution. They can become entangled in the rubber bands, risk being prevented from moving and thus suffocate or no longer be able to feed themselves.

It is estimated that the duration of a mask before it degrades is 450 years, in this long period it is necessary to take into account the microplastics that the disposable masks release into the environment. Not only do the fish that arrive on the tables of citizens feed on this material, but the microplastics also infiltrate the groundwater, even affecting drinking water.

MASKS: POLLUTION ALARM

The pollution alarm from sanitary masks is spreading all over the world. In Europe Opération Mer PropreLink with its divers has started to raise awareness on this issue. So also in Asia Oceans Asia raises awareness by showing beaches polluted by "covid waste". Associations such as Greenpeace and Earth have begun to make their voices heard to highlight the seriousness of this new type of pollution.

Recycling the masks is also complex because the coronavirus can remain up to three days on them and there are no special collection points. However, there are those who have tried. For example, Plaxtil, a French company where the masks are put in isolation for the time necessary, then the various

components are separated by hand before being ground up, disinfected with ultraviolet light and mixed with a binder. Various plastic objects are created with this new material. There are those who, instead, have tried to create disposable masks biodegradable. For example, the Belgian startup CUVCOV that starts from recycled materials to create microfibers with which to create this type of masks. Great attention is also given to packaging, as they are put inside biodegradable wrappers.

SUSTAINABLE MASKS

But what are the most sustainable masks? In Italy, the University of Rome Unitelma Sapienza has tried to give an answer to this question. The coordinator of the research aimed at quantifying the environmental impact of face masks was Professor Piergiuseppe Morone. A preview of the results is available in this interview, where it can be seen that reusable masks have a lower impact also in relation to the raw materials used for their production. The amount of CO2 emitted for these masks and the impact of packaging were calculated. They pollute 50% less than disposable masks. However, to be effective, reusable mas ks must be certified, i.e. they must bear the "community mask" label. Doing the right thing is possible, it is possible to make targeted and responsible purchasing choices.

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