Environmental Impact of PPE

Face masks have become a normal part of everyday life in the pandemic. Unfortunately they have also become a normal part of parking lots, sidewalks, and yards as people struggle to make it to the waste receptacle when they are finished using the disposable ones.

Everywhere you go there are disposable gloves and face masks all over the ground, and even the ones that make it into the proper trash bin are starting to clog the landfills.

By one estimate PPE will account for 128,000 metric tonnes of waste in landfills in the United Kingdom this year alone. Multiply that by every country on Earth and we’re starting to have a problem.

Face masks are crucial in the fight against the pandemic. Depending on the material from which they are made, they can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 82%. But the material they are made from matters.

If you are wearing a mask for the whole day, disposables may not even be your best bet. Over the course of the day bacteria can build up, making disposable masks unsanitary for the long haul.

If you are working in public, for instance, wearing the same disposable mask all day long is not going to be safe or effective. That means you either need to change your mask frequently or use washable masks that can be changed out and washed.

Those in the medical field need disposable PPE, but outside of that there are few legitimate uses for disposable PPE. Most of us should be wearing washable masks and changing them frequently.

But what is the best material from which to make a mask, both from an efficacy standpoint and from an environmental impact standpoint? Cotton is extremely resource-intensive.

Many cloth masks are made from cotton, and folks are getting creative about salvaging material from old sheets and clothes to make masks.

Woven material when layered and sewn tightly can be highly effective at preventing the transmission of the virus, but when brand new materials are used it’s not the most eco-friendly option.

Cork has been shown to be an excellent option for reusable, washable masks. Cork is naturally antimicrobial, which is important not only for virus particles that could end up on the outside of masks, but also for bacterial counts that rise as we wear masks for prolonged periods.

It’s washable, buoyant, and recyclable. Most importantly, it’s sustainable. When cork is harvested off of the trees, the trees absorb five times the CO2, making cork an important part of carbon capture. Cork trees also add to biodiversity around the world. What’s more, cork is hypoallergenic for skin that is sensitive.

Cork masks are vegan and PETA-approved, making them an option for just about anybody. It’s important as the pandemic continues on to think about the economic impact of the changes we are having to make in our daily lives and lessen the environmental impact wherever we can.

Learn more about the safety, sustainability, and efficacy of cork masks below.

The Environmental Impact of PPE