WHERE HAVE ALL THOSE DISPOSABLE FACE MASK ENDED UP? WHAT IMPACT HAS THE PANDEMIC ON OUR ENVIROMENT

From the very beginning, the pandemic meant we had to get used to carrying around a new accessory: a face mask. Thanks to them, we have been able to protect ourselves and those around us.
It is most likely, that despite your best intentions to always use reusable face masks, on occasion, you have had to use disposable masks, e.g. due to certain company’s work protocols during the pandemic that don’t allow the use of any face masks that are not provided by the company.
At Sinplastico we have been asking ourselves: What impact have all these disposable face masks had on our environment? We would like to tell you about what we have discovered in this post.

What are single use disposable face masks made of?

In the EU the single use surgical face masks are made up of 3 layers, 2 of them are polymer fibre fabrics (in other words, plastic) and 1 layer, in between the other 2, is made up of a non-woven fabric, then there is the high-density polyethylene band across the bridge of the nose.
The FFP2 masks are made of multiple dense non-woven fabric layers and also rely on a support band across the nose.
Both these types of faces masks use synthetic elastic bands to hold them in place.
Due to the inherent natural differences between the components of face masks and how difficult it is to separate them from each other, disposable face masks are not recyclable.

At Sinplastico we have hygienic, safe reusable face masks available.


Let’s calculate: some figures relating to the use of face masks

In order to understand the magnitude of all of this, let’s do the numbers:

When confronted with these quantities you can understand that we are facing a problem that needs to be addressed urgently and in the right way.

Where have all these single use face masks gone?

Following the instructions given by the Spanish Government, the correct way to dispose of a single use face mask would be to dispose of it in the general waste container (the “other” section), this waste bin has a different colour in each province.

But never in the bin allocated for compost or recyclable containers.

You should also cut the elastic bands designed to hold the mask in place.

But, where is the final resting place of these disposable face masks?

In March 2021, the UN estimated that 75% of all used face masks will end up in landfill or floating in the world’s oceans.

What impact does the use of disposable face masks have on the environment?

If there is one thing you become more aware of whilst educating yourself about the environment around us, it is the fact that each product we use doesn’t just have an environmental impact at the time of its use. When it comes to disposable face masks the same rule applies.

This report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) mentions a study from 2020 that estimates the number of tonnes of CO2 emitted during the manufacture of face masks:

  • 21.9 tonnes of CO2 are emitted per tonne of face masks.
  • If you count the transport involved, seeing as the majority of masks come from China, we could be getting close to 33.5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne.

If we multiply this by the additional 170,000 tonnes of face masks the EU had to import thanks to the pandemic, the figure increases to nearly 5.7 million tonnes of CO2, and that just relates to the masks manufacture (and only takes into account the EU).

We need to consider the environmental consequences that result from the mismanagement of this medical waste, the repercussions are already being studied, especially when it comes to the impact on the marine environment.

In March 2022, a face mask was found in the stomach of a beached dolphin in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, it also contained other types of waste and additional plastic objects.

It has already been shown that the degradation of face masks has an affect on the marine environment. In this study, 2 conclusions were drawn:

  • The process of single use face masks breaking down in water releases minerals and organic compounds into the surrounding water.
  • These substances, that were previously not present in the marine environment, have effected 40 zebrafish genes related to its reproduction system. This could affect the whole population of this species, not just the individual.

In addition, we need to consider the fact that the presence of microplastics in the planet’s water and in the ground is already high, hence we are only making the situation worse.

What option will you choose now?

There are still places in which it is necessary to wear a mask in order to protect ourselves. Perhaps for this reason, and knowing now what we have just explained, you would like to consider using reusable and safe options.


In our e-shop we have 2 styles on offer, each in various sizes, so that you can minimise the plastic contained in what has become an item we need to have at our fingertips on a daily basis.

Reusable & Washable Hygienic Cotton Face Mask – from €6.60

Reusable & Washable Cotton Fabric Face Mask – from €5.25

At Sinplastico we have chosen to make face masks that protect you and also protect the planet.


 

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