By Natasha Astley
We’ve just launched a range of beautifully patterned reusable face masks on our website. So we thought it was about time to explore the subject of masks - and PPE - in a bit more detail!
As we approach the end of the national lockdown and the festive period, it’s more important than ever to do what we all can to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and wearing a face mask in public is pretty high up on that list!
But, while the health impacts of wearing masks is one of vital importance, as an ethical business we couldn’t help but become concerned at the environmental impacts that the vast production of masks has produced since the beginning of the pandemic.
What are the problems with disposable masks?
A study by the Environmental Science and Technology Journal has estimated that per month, 129 billion disposable face masks are used worldwide, having devastating impacts on the environment. Disposable masks contain plastic which won’t break down naturally in the environment. Discarded masks can be particularly dangerous to animals, with the risk of choking on the litter or wildlife becoming entangled in the mask ear loops being a high possibility. (It is encouraged that when you do throw away disposable masks you cut off the ear loops to prevent entanglement).
What’s more, it’s been suggested that the virus can stay on masks for up to seven days. If not disposed of properly, masks have the potential to spread the virus to the wider public once they’ve been used [The Conversation]
The sourcing and supply chains of some disposable PPE is also an issue from an ethical perspective. For instance, it was recently shown that the British government sourced PPE from factories in China where hundreds of North Korean women were working in conditions of modern slavery [The Guardian].
Why reusable masks?
Reusable masks are an eco-friendly choice when trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of the main reasons for this is that they create less waste. It’s estimated that if everyone in the UK used disposable face masks everyday for a year, it would make 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste and would have the climate change impact of ten times that of reusable masks [Plastic Waste Innovation Hub].
You can also choose reusable masks that are made of gentle and breathable materials, like organic cotton, to reduce irritation to the chin area when wearing a mask for extended periods of time.
And, with a bit of research and some careful choices, it’s possible to support small businesses and ethical brands who can vouch for the provenance of their reusable face masks.
But...part of wearing a reusable mask is washing a mask!
Let’s be clear - reusable face masks may be a sustainable alternative to disposable masks, but they come with their own hygiene risks through incorrect use. And recent YouGov data has shown that many of us still aren’t using them correctly! According to surveys, only 13% of reusable mask wearers are washing them frequently enough, and in the right way [YouGov].
Check out the following guidance on how best to use and care for your reusable face covering:
If your face covering is reusable, after each use machine wash it on the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60 degrees centigrade. Face coverings should only be hand washed if a washing machine is unavailable. For hand washing, lather face coverings for at least 20 seconds using warm to hot water before drying ideally in a tumble dryer. Iron face coverings on the cotton or linen setting to kill any remaining germs - gov.scot
Consider having more than one mask on hand so that you can easily replace a dirty mask with a clean one!
Y.O.U Underwear’s masks make a difference!
For safety and sustainability, check out our new range reusable face masks. Here’s what makes them so great:
Sustainably made by a top ethical manufacturer in India
They consist of a double layer of fabric for extra protection, and if you want to be extra careful, there’s space for you to insert a filter (not included).
They are made from organic cotton, making them the perfect breathable face covering as well as soft and comfortable!
They have an innovative reversible design, each with a plain black ‘inside’.
The use of organic cotton is natural and contains no traces of pesticides, preventing irritation on the skin.
And, what’s more, 10% from the sale of every mask will go to the charity Smalls for All to support their work providing underwear to women and girls in Africa and the UK!