I feel this topic is especially important right now, seeing as it is becoming mandatory for the whole population to start using PPE. If everyone starts using disposable masks and gloves, the pressure on the environment is going to become so immense that the damaging effects may be irreversible.
Although it is difficult to find exact numbers on the amount of disposable protective gear that has already been put into landfill, some news outlets are saying that there are more masks than jellyfish now. There have already been sightings of wildlife (birds mostly) being tangled up in face masks that have been discarded of irresponsibly. Gary Stokes, the Director of Operations at OceansAsia, was already featured in the news back in February, when he found 70 facemasks along a 100 metre stretch of a beach on the secluded Soko Islands, just off of Hong Kong. This was before the virus had made its way to the rest of the world. He also caught site of a bird of prey (black kite – the most familiar bird of prey in Hong Kong) carrying a face mask in its talons. The news of this before the pandemic really got going is terrifying. With the amount of PPE that each country needs to be able to try and go back to a more normal way of life is staggering. It is estimated that just Italy alone would need 1 billion masks and 500 million pairs of gloves every month. That is just one country, and not even the largest population. It is our responsibility to do as much as we can to stop the amount of waste being produced.
We already know that when there isn’t a global pandemic going on, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year. Unfortunately, without living near the coast, it is difficult to play my part in helping to clean the oceans by removing trash off of beaches. However, if each and every one of us picks up litter that we find (whilst remembering to sanitize and wash our hands thoroughly when we get home), we can make a real impact on the environment.
The best thing we can all do is to think about using reusable face masks. There are many thousands of companies and individuals now who are making and selling fabric face masks, in an array of colours, patterns, sizes, and styles. These face masks, providing that the material is double layered, are as good as the disposable type. Think of it this way, if everyone has a mask on, the virus has been filtered twice before it’s even reached your respiratory system, therefore, there is an almost 0% chance of it actually getting to you. Fabric face masks are the perfect choice for everyone, and in the long run, will help to keep your personal costs for buying masks down; once you have used them, you can put them in with your normal load of laundry, hang them out to dry and they’re ready to use again. Therefore, you only need to buy a few masks, and then you’re set to keep using them again and again and again. We have no idea how long this pandemic could go on for, so by having reusable masks, you will always have a supply of them to use as long as is needed. Wearing a face mask may just become a normal way of life and a new trend that everyone catches on to. My hope would be that companies look into using sustainable materials to make fabric face masks and that it becomes the new talking point of fashion, creating a feeling that everyone needs to have one. If this happened, everyone would be wearing masks which would protect the vulnerable people, and with them being fabric masks there is much less burden on the environment.
Disposable gloves are a difficult topic. In my opinion, gloves are only useful for the doctors and nurses treating patients in hospitals, or in doctors’ surgeries where they’re touching many different people and have to change their gloves between each patient. If we were all to wear gloves, just think of how much waste and pressure that would put on the environment. We would all have to change gloves for each place we go, meaning many millions of gloves being thrown away each day. The other problem with gloves is that if you don’t change them, you are simply moving the virus from one place to another should you come into contact with it. Think about people going to the food store, not changing their gloves and then driving home. You may have picked up the virus on something in the store, and now it’s all over your car door, steering wheel, gear lever, hand brake etc. My boyfriend and I don’t use gloves, but instead we make sure to sanitize our hands thoroughly after each activity. For instance, we go to the food store, do our shopping, and before we touch anything other than the car door, we sanitize our hands. Yes, hand sanitizer bottles produce waste, but in all, they produce a lot less waste than if the whole population were constantly using disposable gloves. Sanitizer bottles, depending on size, can last for a large number of uses and are more easily reused/recycled. If you are really unsure about not wearing gloves, you could use normal pairs of winter gloves, which you can then put in the wash after use, that way you save on producing waste, save money, and have an everlasting supply that you can wash and use over and over again.
In every situation, there is a solution to reduce your own consumption of waste. Fabric reusable masks are one way to keep ourselves safe during this time, but also a way to reduce environmental impact. There are other areas of life that we can also help. About a year, maybe two years ago, my boyfriend and I decided to switch from shampoo bottles to shampoo bars. We get ours from Lush and it is packaged in a paper bag so that we can get it home without it crumbling everywhere and making a mess. I have incredibly thick hair, and I would go through a bottle of shampoo a month, which in my lifetime, would add up to a lot of plastic waste. By switching to a shampoo bar with easily recyclable packaging, I am making a small, but significant difference in my contribution to helping the environment. The shampoo bar lasts at least a month, maybe even longer. We are also looking to change to bamboo toothbrushes instead of using plastic ones. Having a good toothbrush is important for good oral hygiene, but constantly replacing them with plastic ones isn’t good. There are a few companies online where you can get all sorts of eco-friendly bathroom products, the key is to slowly start to change your products over time as your old ones run out.
The important message here is that you don’t have to change everything in a day, but making small changes over time and consciously choosing to fix the problem rather than being a part of it, will help the earth and environment in so many ways. Even things like making sure to use a reusable water bottle, or reusable coffee cup, can really change the potential of a future disaster.
One other thing I purchased a little while ago is a bamboo cutlery set. I tend to carry this with me when travelling or going to events etc where I may eat food that requires cutlery. Instead of having to use the plastic disposable cutlery that is normally provided, I have my own reusable set. As well as the usual cutlery, it also comes with chopsticks, a metal straw and a cleaner for the straw, meaning that I am fully prepared to eat anything and have a straw for my drinks that isn’t damaging to the environment.
I hope that everyone who is reading this is prepared to make some small changes in the way that they use different products, so that we can all feel like we are helping to save the earth. If you have already made changes to what you use in your daily lives, or are planning to make changes, let me know in the comments. The most important thing we can do is to share this message. None of us need to live a perfect sustainable lifestyle, but we can all try to do something and be a little bit more conscious of our actions from today. It is better to try, and do it imperfectly, than not trying at all.
The amazon links are from my affiliate account, this means when you buy this product through these links, I earn a small amount but it doesn’t cost you anything extra.
The seller I bought my fabric face masks from is no longer selling them, however, there are so many that you can find just by searching for fabric masks that I’m sure you will find a design that you like.