Masks and the Environment

On a college campus it’s probably common that face masks are required inside campus buildings. However, the real issue with that is where those face masks end up.

It’s almost a guarantee that your walk to and from campus you might see a disposable face mask on the ground or laying in the dirt. While it could be an accent, it’s definitely hurting our environment. 3.4 billion face masks are discarded every day, according to a study published to the National Library of Medicine. These disposable face masks are made up of multiple plastic fibers that stay in the environment for years and years, which only adds to our carbon footprint.

Kara Whitman, a School of the Environment professor at WSU said this issue is definitely hurting our environment and just like any other item that doesn’t get thrown away

“Just like any type of trash material that is left on the ground that can mingle with water and break down slowly over time, those components can be harmful for a lot of different reasons. Maybe through ingestion by other organisms or through the release of toxins to the environment, so if they do have some sort of PCB’s or other types of compounds that are not safe to be in the environment, that’s a significant risk especially if we have a large influx of that type of material to the environment,” said Whitman.

Kyle Rutan is the president of the environmental club here at WSU and said this issue is a serious problem.

“Masks are made out of material that doesn’t degrade, so once it’s in the environment and sitting there it’s going to be there for a long time. And rather than disappearing it’s going to go into smaller and smaller pieces, which the issue with micro plastics is just as a big of an issue with bigger pieces of plastic that we find in the environment,’ said Rutan.

Plastic products such as masks, gloves, and bottles of sanitizers have played a vital role in protecting people during the COVID-19 pandemic. and while those products have helped a significant amount of people, it could cause surge in unwanted plastic washing up in ocean coastlines. This issue can be achieved by proper disposal of your personal protective gear such as face masks. As recommended by the US FDA reusable cloth face masks are best way to go when protecting the environment from unwanted plastic.