Face Masks: The issue with single use masks and the alternatives

Social Supermarket

The demand for PPE equipment for the health services has been front and centre of the news during the peak of COVID. By late April, over one billion of items of PPE equipment had been delivered to the NHS, imported from overseas and manufactured from various businesses in the UK .

We have also seen a growing consensus that the general public should wear face coverings with more than 50 countries requiring individuals to wear face coverings when they leave home, including on public transport and in cabs in the UK. 

Despite the crucial role that PPE has in fighting COVID-19, we also need to understand the impact of mass production of single use items. Eight million metric tonnes of plastic entering our ocean every year on top of an estimated 150m tonnes already circulating marine environments .

If every person in the UK used a single use face mask once per day, this would contribute an additional 57,000 tonnes of plastic packaging into the ocean . It is clear that although PPE equipment is absolutely essential in the fight against COVID-19, it is also having serious detrimental impacts on the long-term fight against ocean pollution.

So how do we stop our solution to COVID from exacerbating the plastic pollution problem?

Maask Face Mask & Respirator
Maask Face Mask & Respirator

Here at Social Supermarket, we wanted to help answer the following questions:

  1. Do we all need these single use face masks?
  2. Are there any alternatives to single use face masks?

Do we all need single use face masks?

The answer is no. Surgical grade N95 respirators do offer the highest level of protection against Covid-19 infection, followed by surgical grade masks. However, the advice in England remains that the general public shouldn’t try to buy medical face masks, as these need to be reserved for frontline staff and key workers only.

On top of this, these masks are costly, in limited supply, contribute to landfill waste and are uncomfortable to wear for long periods which means they have not suitable to be worn by everyone, every day.

Conscious House London Face Mask
Conscious House London Face Mask

Are there any alternatives to single use face masks?

Whilst you can make you own face mask at home, there are a number of social enterprises who are producing face masks.

Three that we have decided to partner with produce face masks made from up-cycled material, from repurposed ocean plastic (MAASK) or fabric offcuts (The Conscious House and The Natural Dyer Company). With each purchase they create their own individual impact through donation a proportion of profits to good causes or donating surgical grade face masks to frontline workers.

As part of our contribution, Social Supermarket will also be donating 50% of profits from any sale of face masks to Fair Share as part of our ongoing commitment to support those struggling as a result of COVID-19.

References & Further Reading: 

  • Why a billion items of PPE is not enough (source)
  • Which countries have made wearing face masks compulsory? (source)
  • Where to Buy face masks in the UK (source)
  • How face masks, gloves and other coronavirus waste is polluting our ocean (source)
  • Discarded coronavirus face masks and gloves rising threat to ocean life, conservationists warn (source)
  • What kind of face mask gives the best protection against coronavirus? (source)
The Natural Dyer Face Mask - Red Gingham
The Natural Dyer Face Mask – Red Gingham

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