The Waste Problem
According to recent studies, it is estimated that people use 129 billion face masks every month (3 million a minute!) around the world to protect against the coronavirus.
That is no small footprint.
Yes, it’s proven that masks are critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and we should all be wearing them… but, there are also some environmental concerns.
Unfortunately, many of our masks end up getting thrown out and wind up in our oceans and landfills. This is especially problematic because disposable masks are made from plastic microfibers and don’t readily biodegrade, much like plastic bottles.
We need to keep wearing masks to protect ourselves and others, so how can we fix this problem?
Can Disposable Masks be Recycled?
Once used, most disposable masks are treated as medical waste which means they get incinerated. When this happens, CO2 and other harmful toxins are released into the atmosphere, contributing to the increasingly daunting climate crisis (*enter suspense sound effects*).
No, but seriously. Masks are unfortunately not helping this pre-COVID climate problem.
Disposable masks are made from two different material compositions. The first is Polypropylene or PP, which is used in most commercial masks. The second is Poly Vinylidene Fluoride or PVDF, which is the one we use in our ORA Brand facemasks.
Although both are recyclable, they are still treated as medical waste.
Now, keep in mind that only the filter material of the facemask is recyclable and the straps and nose bridge (metal piece) are not. Of course, it would be costly and inefficient for waste management sites to sort through mask filters and salvage the recyclable parts.
There are only a handful of waste management sites that will go the extra mile to sanitize masks. And, at the end of the day, these still end up in the landfill.
The ORÅ Solution
This is really unfortunate news, we know. Let’s focus on solutions, shall we?
As many of us know, reusable and washable masks are the most environmentally conscious masks and are generally more sustainable.
The ORÅ Nano Mask is both reusable and washable and uses the most environmentally friendly materials. It’s made from PVDF material, but this isn’t what makes it more sustainable than Polypropylene (remember, they’re both recyclable).
It’s more about the process.
Manufacturing Polypropylene requires heavier solvents in manufacturing than PVDF. Solvents in general are a widely recognized environmental concern. They are considered toxic and carcinogenic, producing an air pollutant known as “ground-level ozone.”
The heavier the solvents are, the more harmful they are to the environment and our health.
After substantial research and development, we wanted to design an n95 mask that is highly effective and can be recycled. Hence the ORA Nano Mask is made from PVD and manufactured to be a fully compostable mask.
In addition to using a more eco-friendly mask, other things can reduce waste from masks.
For example, Terracycle’s Zero Waste Box Program collects items that are difficult to recycle and are often not recycled by municipal programs. They take safety equipment and protective gear and recycle face masks.
Plaxtil Recycling Company is another example. It’s a startup in France that specifically recycles face masks. They let the disposable facemasks sit for 4 days in “quarantine” and then transform them into raw material.
It’s important to also note that there are currently no government guidelines or stipulations about how we should dispose of face masks. Surely if there were government intervention and incentives for waste management sites to sort and recycle masks, this would be less of an issue.
To sum it all up, we know that mask waste (and medical waste in general) was already an environmental concern before the coronavirus. And now, it’s an even bigger problem.
With all the millions of masks being used every day, governments should be doing more to protect not only the public but also the environment.
We believe this problem can be solved through technology and innovation. As laws change and technology advances, we hope to see a reduction in waste and an increase in environmentally concious facemask products and processes.
At ORÅ, we aim to be part of the solution by producing highly effective sustainable face masks. Protect yourself and the planet by getting an ORÅ facemask!