The Influx and Influence of Masks

Written by: Angie Kung and Stuti Garg

Masks have become an essential in our everyday lives. Without them, the rates of COVID-19 cases would have been boosted dramatically, making going outside nearly impossible. We use these masks so often, yet most disregard what we do after using them. Many tend to litter their masks when they're done using them or let their cloth masks lay unwashed on the counter. These are just two examples of how not to discard your masks. To prevent cross contamination with your masks, it’s important to remember that your masks come in contact with a number of various particles while protecting vital facial entry points. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to properly dispose of your mask:

1. Before taking off your mask, wash your hands.

Our hands are the primary centers of contact with our world, whether it be that cookie you ate or those germs from the bathroom doorknob. In fact studies have shown that every time you touch an object or shake someone's hand, you pick up a large amount of bacteria and/ or potential viruses. Each person is estimated to have around 1,500 bacteria living on each square centimeter of our hands; with areas under our fingernails or between our fingers harbouring more. Imagine transferring all those germs and bacteria to the mask that’s supposed to be protecting you from germs. By washing our hands we prevent the spread of these germs and bacteria to our masks, lowering the risk of spreading viruses.

2. Remove the mask by the straps and fold in half, without touching the front part. For single use masks, make sure to cut off straps from both sides to prevent them becoming a hazard to wildlife.

3. Leave the mask in a closed bag/container.

4. If possible, wait 24 hours for the germs to die before disposing of the mask.

5.Throw the mask into a trash can with a closed lid.

6. Wash your hands thoroughly.

If you feel your mask is deteriorating (wet, stained, humid, etc), replace it with a fresh, dry mask as soon as possible.

Masks are crucial in seeing an end to this pandemic, and disposing of them the right way is equally important. It prevents the transmission of Covid-19 to the people around us. Unfortunately, not everyone has adhered to the guidelines from above. Due to this, the accumulation of improperly discarded masks is stressing our already damaged environment. Hordes of masks have washed up on ocean shorelines and been dumped on land.

When left alone, these masks could take years to degenerate. However, their impact on ecosystems could last even longer. Animals may accidentally consume masks, leading to a decreased life span and potentially even choking. Animals might also become entangled with them and struggle to survive with the burden of straps trapping them. The loss of their natural habitats is another factor to take into consideration. A cluster of masks can congest an area and threaten the wildlife that remains. Not only does this serve as a danger to animals, but for the people that may stumble upon it as well.

While disposing of masks properly helps with this problem, the best solution is to use reusable masks whenever possible. These masks can be just as effective when washed after every use, and do not contribute to the new pollution problem of which we are only just starting to see the effects.