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Words Matter: Disposable Masks Protect Us But Harm the Environment

It’s not only people who suffer through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our oceans suffer too.

Before the pandemic, N95 masks were produced at a rate of 50 million each year. The U.S Department of Defense reports a drastic increase in the demand of these masks at 140 million in a 90 day time period. The production rate of these masks is planned to reach 450 million per year in October, and 800 million in January. The year 2021 as a whole will see over a billion masks produced.

More masks are disposed of as litter due to this dramatic increase in production. Whether this may be intentional or unintentional, our oceans will suffer as a result. Masks have already been found along the shores of many countries, and if you keep an eye out, you’ll start noticing them around you, too.

How do we tackle this?

We can pay more attention to how we dispose of our masks, such as by double-checking that we didn’t leave them around and making sure they are placed in the trash can. Another way could be to switch to using reusable masks. You may be hesitant about making the change. The pros of wearing single-use masks are the sanitation and convenience. More reliable medical masks, such as the N95, guarantee prevention of the spread more than reusable masks, but that doesn’t mean that reusable masks aren’t safe.

Heavy-duty face masks intended for one use are usually more expensive and will need constant restocking. Reusable masks, however, are cost-efficient. You can live through a pandemic with just a few cloth masks, recycling different pairs by washing them regularly. Thick cloth material is also encouraged by scientists for public use; it is definitely thick enough to prevent the potential spreading of the virus.

It is essential to note the importance of masks to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but we cannot ignore the pollution of our oceans as a result of it. The statement being made is that plastic cannot be the solution to COVID-19.


Written by: Sonal Mohan

Edited by: Katie Last, Nicole Wilkes

Graphic by: Buse Koldaş

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