Face Masks: Disposable Product Or Necessary Protection? A Close-Up.

| By Leon Kirschgens & Jacqueline Plaster

In the current situation it seems impossible to get a grip on our global waste problem: everyone suddenly needs a mask – and not only in medicine does it quickly end up in the trash. The hygiene situation shows impressively: we urgently need proper waste disposal and a global rethink.

A glance out of the window is enough to capture the entire waste problem in one picture. Anyone who dares to go outside these days – whether to enjoy the spring sun or go shopping – covers his mouth and nose with a mask. Like hardly any other disposable product, it embodies the crux of our waste problem: on the one hand, it is more important than ever, not only for doctors and nurses. Production is running at full speed and people are starting to get creative themselves and sew masks. On the other hand, tens of thousands of masks that have only been used once end up in the trash every day. Even more:Disposable products are a problem if there is no adequate waste management. . “Discarded masks and gloves are becoming a health hazard because people dispose of them on the streets,” reported CNN for example a week ago. A difficult situation – how can everyone reconcile their own and everyone else’s protection with the abandonment of disposable products?


At this point it is important to say in advance: Don’t beat yourself up. Anyone who deals with this issue and whose environmental heart bleeds will sooner or later be confronted with this conflict. We cannot give you the usual tip to refrain from disposable products at this point. However, if these masks get into the environment, especially into the sea, they can lead to big problems: Animals swallow them, get caught in them and again a resource is released into the environment, which remains there forever and hardly decomposes.

But can the masks not be disposed of properly? Difficult. In some countries it may work, but in most countries, there is no good waste management – and if there is, there is often no guarantee that the waste will not end up in landfills. Therefore, there is also a risk that used masks will end up in the environment if they are disposed of “properly”.

Photo by: Pacific Garbage Screening

The oppressive feeling of powerlessness is back. So what can we do? There is currently no perfect solution. The masks are important for us, as are many other hygiene products. It is becoming obvious that plastic itself is not a bad product – we just handle it the wrong way and do not yet have an adequate waste management.

But there are things everyone can look out for. Dispose of the masks in the correct waste so that they do not end up in the environment. And furthermore: Take a close look at what product you really need. The masks are right and important now, but maybe you notice other disposable products for which you find alternatives? You might even find a lot and in the overall picture you use less disposables despite the mask! The masks will fall off again in future, but in the long run you will do without many other disposables.

This crisis shows us like never how urgent global cooperation is to improve or even build up our waste management. Perhaps it is an opportunity to get rid of old habits so that new, more sustainable structures can be implemented.