How do we stop the flood of masks?
During the contact restrictions, we mostly stay inside – but our rubbish still finds its way out. Not only to waste processing plants or onto the compost, but also into nature. Masks are everywhere: they are found in parks and on beaches, are drifting through rivers and seas. Ghost nets are glad about their company – the environment, however, not so much.
More plastic waste due to Covid-19
When the gastronomy is closed and we study and work from home, we have to cook more for ourselves. This means we also have to buy more groceries. As a result, packaging waste from private households increased significantly. From March to June 2020 alone, about 10 percent more plastic ended up in the recycling bins in Germany.
But Germany is the world champion in recycling plastic waste, so that shouldn’t be a problem at all! Is that really true? Of the 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste from private households in 2017, only 810,000 tonnes have been recycled. This corresponds to just 16 percent. We are proud of our waste separation system in Germany, but we cannot be proud of this recycling rate. This is why we want to – and should – reduce plastic waste as much as possible.
Waste from hygienic disposable products
But that is not all! We’re sure you’ve noticed a new type of rubbish over the past few months: that’s right, disposable masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, supply was still short, but now they are found everywhere – in shops, of course, but also on the street. Hygiene products are especially important in these times, but so is their responsible use and disposal.
The problem is: When single-use masks are not properly disposed of and end up in the environment, they become a danger to animals, among other things. It’s the same story as with plastic bags: for example, animals get tangled up in their loops or confuse them with food. The masks also often end up in rivers or in the sea, where they drift through the water for decades or even centuries to come until they decompose into dangerous microplastics.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. If the approximately 80 million inhabitants of Germany used and threw away a FFP2 mask of 10 grams every day, we would generate 5600 tons of waste per week. After not even 2 weeks, the additional mountain of waste would be as heavy as the Eiffel Tower. Sure, the masks would ideally be disposed of as residual waste – but that would mean they would be incinerated and emit CO2. And if only one mask per person per month were lost, that would already be 800 tons of masks. The next time it rains, they would end up in the drain or sewer and eventually in the sea. Our experiment is actually quite harmless: in fact, our annual consumption of additional protective clothing is estimated to reach 1.1 million tonnes in 2020.
Do masks really end up in the environment and the sea? Unfortunately, yes: The marine protection organisation OceansAsia, for instance, found 70 masks along not even 100 metres of beach on an uninhabited island near Hong Kong. And that was in February 2020 when the mask flood just started. More and more masks are appearing every day. It’s due time to change this!
What can we do about it?
There are two ways to remedy the situation: response and prevention. Every piece of plastic that we fish from the environment can potentially save animals. In September 2020, about 320 tons of waste were collected at a cleanup along the shore of the Rhine – fantastic! We were there and also collected many masks.
More importantly, we simply need to avoid this type of waste. And that includes using fewer masks multiple times. The FH Münster researched and published a document (German) about doing this safely. In short: If you let a mask rest for 7 days or put it in the oven at 80°C for 1 hour after use, you can reuse them for up to 7 times.
NEW: Our Mask Chain
Still – fewer masks can still get lost. But not with our new mask chain! Simply attach it to your mask loops with its small carabiners and face mask will always hang securely around your neck. The extra benefit: You don’t even need to touch the mask to take it off – so it is also much more hygienic.
Our mask chain consists of a piece of ghost net and is available in the colours Baltic Sea and Wadden Sea. Match them with your favourite Bracenets and your environmentally friendly look is ready! Stylish, safe and keeps the environment clean.
Save the seas. Wear a net. Wear a mask.
title Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash