Column: Life on Earth

This week’s topic: Masks

By Mia Currie

When COVID-19 cases first began to rise in the United States, many individuals turned to buying disposable masks as a way to slow the spread of the virus. As estimated by the United Nations trade body, the global sales for mask production have exponentially increased $166 billion dollars in the past year. And although this has strengthened the economy, it has greatly damaged the environment. If the current data gathered is correct, it is reasonable to assume that around 72 percent of masks end up in landfills or floating in the seas. Even if a person were to throw out two masks per week; collectively as a community, we would be responsible for filling 5000 square meters in a landfill every two weeks. 

Courtesy of Joerg Blessing/UN World Ocean Day

The toxins released by uncontrolled burning of masks to empty landfills, and the fibers dissolved into the water from mask disposal into the oceans, are going to greatly impact public health and the ecosystem. Above is a picture of the Pacific Ocean polluted by mask shreds. Animals such as rays, turtles, sharks, and whales are all greatly impacted by ingesting this level of plastic. It clogs their esophagi and causes them to choke to death. The bands which hold masks together get caught around the neck of sea creatures and strangle them.

How we can help:

With more companies starting to sell reusable/cotton masks, it is important that we, as a community, take the extra step. We must switch to these masks so as to avoid disposing of single-use masks every day. There are many different ways to be safe during the pandemic and it is vital that we do so by being eco-friendly . Masks can be washed and sterilized with ease, which will save money for the individual and save the lives of various marine creatures.