By Shani Lewis, VP of Environmental Issues of the YU Democrats
With over 70 million people contracting COVID-19 worldwide, we all share a responsibility to stop the spread of this virus. For most people this means social distancing, washing our hands and wearing a mask. When it comes to wearing a mask, we have a dual responsibility. We need to wear a mask to protect those around us, and we need to use a reusable one to protect our planet. Experts such as Dr. Jodi Sherman, an associate professor of anesthesiology and epidemiology and director of the program on healthcare environmental sustainability at Yale University said “[t]he general public should be using reusable face masks and performing routine laundering at home … ” Wearing a reusable face mask is just as effective as using a disposable one, and it protects the environment. We need to make a change and we need to make it now.
Wearing disposable masks poses many problems environmentally. The sheer amount of disposable masks being mass produced is outrageous. The World Health Organization (WHO) in March approximated that 89 million disposable masks were needed globally per month in medical settings to combat COVID-19. Since the WHO made that statement in March, 712 million masks have been mass produced for medical professionals alone. In August, the UK reported that they could either make 24.7 billion to protect the everyday person or 136 million reusable masks could be made instead. Why is this even a question? We are talking about billions of masks being made that will end up dumped into the ocean, versus a few million reusable masks that can be continuously used. The damage is exponential and we are killing the earth. Laurent Lombard, founder of Opération Mer Propre is quoted saying that in a matter of time “… [we] run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean.” There is no need for people to wear a surgical disposable mask, the reusable is just as effective. By wearing a reusable mask we are protecting ourselves and our planet.
Whether we are wearing a disposable mask or a reusable one, it is essential that when discarding a mask it is disposed of properly. Instead of throwing away the entire mask, make sure to cut off the ear loops so that they don’t become entangled in animals. Depending on the material, cutting the entire mask in half can significantly reduce the chance of the mask, if blown away, getting caught within an animal or their digestive tract if swallowed. Taking these precautions will protect our ecosystem and the animals that live within it. COVID-19 has been harming people worldwide, lets not let COVID-19 indirectly harm the wildlife around us. Let’s make strides towards decisions that will save both humans and the environment.