As there is no clear end in sight for the coronavirus, there is also seemingly no end for the use of face masks and other personal protective equipment. This means that for the foreseeable future, masks will become everyday items that are just as ingrained as reciting that "phone, wallet, keys" checklist before you walk out the door. Except now, you add one more note to that rhythmic chant, "phone, wallet, keys... mask". Now that most businesses require face masks upon entry, we, as a collective public, need to assess the motivations as well as the consequences of the long term use of masks.
As we continue to learn about the virus and how it works, one of the most astounding findings is that infected people can spread COVID-19 without showing any symptoms (CDC). With this knowledge, the ubiquity of masks is growing but people are still turning to single use options despite announcements of PPE shortages worldwide. We have noted the importance of reusable face masks in light of these shortages before. But now we are tacking on another reason for why we support the use of reusable face masks, and this is to protect our oceans. As the CDC's findings allow the public to exercise some control in their efforts to protect themselves from the virus, this desire to defend ourselves has unfortunately manifested itself in the form of single use PPE. Plastic masks, latex gloves, and bottles of hand sanitizer are making their way into our oceans and pose an extreme threat to our Earth and its marine life. To put things into perspective, knowing that countries around the world have ordered millions of disposable masks, "we'll soon run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean" says Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre, a French non-profit dedicated to cleaning the waters of the Mediterranean off the French coast.
As more and more people to turn to single use plastic as the sole solution to the coronavirus we need to understand that even in the time of a pandemic we still need to be conscious of the impacts we have on our planet. By purchasing a reusable cloth face covering you are not only increasing the likelihood that our first responders have access to medical and surgical grade PPE, but you are also making a concerted effort against the plastic pollution of our oceans. As countries began to reopen we can only expect to see a massive surge in pollutive activity, such as construction and manufacturing, around the world as efforts are made to recover from economic downturn the virus has created. So now more than ever, there is a huge opportunity to take a stand for environmental sustainability and resilience.
As we look towards recovery, let's remember that we don't need a global pandemic to save our planet but we can let this serve as a wake up call. Moving forward choose reusable face masks in place of plastic ones and opt for frequent hand washing instead of latex gloves, so that way when we do return to our beaches they won't be littered with coronavirus waste.
Stay safe out there.
- The MamaBear Family
**Photo Credit to @sahikaercumen, image taken from her instagram. Sahika Ercumen, is a top free diver who is seen here underwater using single-use masks and latex gloves that have found there way into the Bosphorus near Turkey. Please check out her page to see her efforts in raising awareness for plastic pollution in our oceans!***