The Environmental Impacts of Face Masks

Staff Writer: Kailyn Gunkler

As many people are headed back to school this Fall, there has been an understandable concern for the well-being of staff and the students. Although the Cherokee County School District isn’t allowed to require masks, they’re highly recommending that everyone wears them in situations where social distancing is unattainable.

However, whether someone decides if they want to wear a mask or not is just the tip of the iceberg. Many people have resorted to wearing reusable masks made from materials such as cloth and spandex, however there is still a large population of people who wear disposable ones instead.

It may not seem like a huge problem at the surface, but the negative environmental impacts that disposable masks have on our planet are very much so something that we need to monitor so we don’t cause excessive harm to our planet.

I talked with some students at Woodstock High School about which type of mask they preferred, and if they wore a reusable mask, why?

Students sporting masks seems to be the new normal. Photo credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/izusek?assettype=image&mediatype=photography&sort=mostpopular

Maddie Trousse, a senior here at Woodstock said, “I use reusable masks because I like the design, and they’re better for the Earth.”

Emma Hicks, another senior here at our school, said she prefers reusable masks too. “You don’t have to throw it away every time. You can just wash them.” These are some awesome perspectives that I found to be quite common in my interviews with students around our school.

However, what about the students who prefer disposable ones? A few of the responses that I received when I asked some people why they prefer disposable masks over reusable ones were that they’re more breathable, they’re less constricting on your face, and it’s easier to toss them out instead of taking the time to wash them clean of all the germs.

Overall, responses from both parties made total sense. Between sitting in class all day, participating in sports, and running errands, the most important thing is being comfortable, and it can be difficult to feel free with a piece of fabric covering your nose and mouth. However, although disposable masks seem to be a quick, easy choice in the moment, the consequences that they have on our planet last a lot longer than the duration we’re wearing them.

To make something clear, if you were to incorrectly dispose of your reusable mask, it would take the same time to decompose as a disposable one would. The sole reason reusable masks are a more eco-friendly option is because they aren’t designed to be thrown away regularly like disposable ones are. The fabric of the reusable masks will break down pretty fast, however the filters used in both masks don’t.

According to www.theecoexperts.co.uk, “these filters are made from a thermoplastic known as polypropylene. This substance takes 500 years to decompose. If not disposed of properly, these masks would litter our beaches and seas for generations.”

Masks like the ones photographed above won’t decompose for centuries, and unfortunately will most likely be consumed by marine life or sea birds mistaking them for food before then. Photo credit: https://buzzolf.com/disposable-masks-are-now-littering-the-ocean/

It is such an unfortunate time for not only the well-being of people all around the world, but for the well-being of our planet too. There are not too many ways to go completely green right now, but there are certainly ways for each and everyone of us to help our planet in a small way.

First, if you can, wear reusable masks! Although they have the same filter as disposable masks like I mentioned earlier, they are disposed of way less since they’re designed to be washed clean from the virus and bacteria.

Second, if you chose to still wear a disposable mask, make sure to cut off the straps once you’re done with it so wildlife, especially birds, don’t get entangled in them.

Last but not least, educate yourself and your friends on the problems at hand. Word of mouth is so important because it is a quick, efficient way for information to spread around, and during these times it is crucial for all of us to make smart decisions to not only help ourselves, but to help others and our planet too.

Remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle! Stay safe and healthy, Wolverines!

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