The Real Killer: Disposable Masks

Geese making a nest out of masks and trash they picked up.
Photo Credit: Hannah Levenson

Geese making a nest out of masks and trash they picked up. Photo Credit: Hannah Levenson

Kayleigh Sell, News and Review Editor

Everyone has heard it a million times: “We are in the midst of a global pandemic, please wear your mask.” Over the course of the pandemic, it seems that disposable masks are favored over reusable ones. There are obvious reasons why disposable masks are a popular choice to many, including myself, such as avoiding acne, being more comfortable to wear, and just easier. I personally like disposable masks because I never have to worry about washing them. But after looking into these masks a little more, I realize that they are more harmful than I could have ever imagined.

Have you ever really thought about your mask after you throw it out? Probably not. It has never even crossed my mind, up until recently. When there is a list of other things to worry about during this time, where your mask ends up is most likely not at the top of that list. The world is already having problems with what to do with trash which is why we see a lot of it end up on the streets or in the ocean. The article “ COVID-19: Unmasking the Environmental Impact” explains the negative effects that disposable masks have on the environment and wildlife.

“The adverse environmental impact of such clinical debris during COVID-19 are far-reaching. Once these are left discarded in an animal’s natural habitat – be it land or water – this may cause animals to mistake this trash for food, which could lead to entanglement, choking, ingestion and death.”

At Solon High School, a survey was given to get an estimate on what type of masks students wear to school. Out of the 130 students who participated in the survey, 33.1% said that disposable masks are their most used type of mask on a day to day basis. The other 66.9% said they choose to wear reusable masks more. I think that while a low percentage of students wearing disposable masks is good, we could do better.

If you still choose to wear disposable masks somehow after reading this, one way to alleviate this problem is to cut the strings before you throw them away. This helps prevent them from potentially wrapping around animals legs or necks. I personally have seen so many masks in the streets around Solon it’s disgusting. As simple as it is, just throw your mask away in a trash can. This way, masks are disposed of properly and are kept out of the environment for animals to potentially pick up or get tangled in.

People choose to wear disposable masks because they find them to be easy, accessible, and comfortable. With reusable masks, you can find ones that are adjustable, moisture wicking and in packs of multiple masks. All of your problems solved. These masks were made to replace disposable masks to limit the amount of waste accumulating from just disposable masks.

If more people knew about the negative effects of pandemic waste (such as one use masks, gloves, plastic bottles of hand sanitizer, etc) then maybe less would wear disposable masks to try and make up for the rest of the plastic waste. While it is not always possible for everyone to stop wearing disposable masks, if many did then maybe we wouldn’t be making such a bad effect on the environment right now. I know that I am going to go invest in a reusable mask right now, for the sake of precious wildlife and our planet. The declining health of the earth is an issue that can’t be stopped, but it can definitely be slowed. After all we are the ones who are hurting it.