In the early days of the disease, a large portion of us decided to purchase masks made of fabric that can be reused to combat COVID-19’s spread. They’re healthier for the environment than disposable ones, are locally produced, and are available in a wide range of innovative styles.
However, since the extremely infectious Omicron variant has emerged and spread rapidly, we’ve been advised to wear a properly fitted respirator mask as the first choice (N95 or KN95 mask and P mask). These, however, have a short shelf-life, and it may be jarring to switch back to a more wasteful product for many environmentally-minded Aussies.
Although it’s not yet possible to determine the exact number of disposable masks that end up in landfills in Australia, We do know that the issue of textile waste is an enormous problem. Each year, every Australian throws to the trash about 23 kilograms of clothing on average. This is in addition to over 780,000 tons of rubber, leather, and other waste from textiles generated across Australia.
Since the amount of waste produced is likely to rise as we safeguard ourselves from Omicron, is there a way to reduce our consumption without compromising our health?
N95 masks are the best security against the Omicron variant.
Maximizing the use of masks
Australians are being advised from the middle of 2020 to wear N95-fitted masks because they are the most effective security against the virus coronavirus. They generally provide a better fit on the face and offer a greater level of filtering than cloth masks, protecting the wearer from droplets and aerosols.
However, supply chain issues and concerns about shortages and the lower rates of transmission in earlier versions made the less effective masks and fabrics suitable in low-risk environments. This is no longer the case for the Omicron version.
One way to minimize the use if you own masks N95 is to prolong their lives. In hospitals, it is advised to stay clear of the use of N95 masks for more than a day and dispose of them when they are soiled or wet.
However, this is not feasible for the common public, for instance, when supplies are low. There are several methods for reusing N95 masks that are safe and are recommended by the mask’s designer. There are other options for reuse, for example, elastomeric respirators.
Read more: Time to upgrade from cloth and surgical masks to respirators? Your questions answered.
For disposable respirators, the most straightforward reuse method in non-medical settings is to rotate your mask every three or four days, storing it in a clean paper bag when not in use. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after you touch your show, and keep your cover dry – if your body gets wet, stop using it. Consider numbering your masks so you don’t mix them up.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the use of N95s up to 5 times prior to throwing them in the garbage (if they’ve been cleaned and haven’t been damaged). However, it’s important to keep in mind that the long-term consequences of reuse and cleaning aren’t fully understood.
How can you safely recycle your old N95?
There’s no reason to throw away masks made of fabric. The importance of having your favorite fabric masks for backups in your bag, car, or pockets is essential since every show will be better than no mask in low-risk, fleeting contact situations, like outdoors.
Double masking – putting your mask of fabric on top of the disposable surgical mask gives greater protection when compared with the use of a single surgical mask. Covers made of material protect against other illnesses that depend on droplets, such as the flu.
The sustainability of healthcare
The increase in the use of disposable masks is a sign of a bigger problem that is becoming more widely recognized in the form of hospital waste.
Consider single-use hospital gowns made of plastic, for instance. Around 1 million dresses were utilized each year during the pandemic at only one (of six) acute public hospitals in Victoria, According to an ongoing study conducted with coauthor Forbes McGain.
This is a conservative estimation that only covers public hospitals if we know the gowns used for disposal are in a variety of other settings. This includes private hospitals as well as aged care as well as home and residential healthcare as well as other health care services such as the testing and vaccination centers.
Sustainable and ecologically-friendly healthcare is a new field that aims to find alternatives to the waste that is generated by healthcare, its impacts on the environment, and the best way to inform healthcare professionals about sustainable methods of care.
Research suggests that there is a possibility to broaden what’s known as the “tiered approach”, which gives you more options of protection based on risk levels. situations. For instance, integrating disposable gowns, when needed, can help ensure that people are safe and less stress on supply systems and reduce the amount of waste.
Spearheading this effort is textile scientist Meriel Chamberlin, who is collaborating with clinicians to develop compliant, safe and reusable textile gowns that offer protection and comfort with a lower environmental impact than disposables.
In the case of masks, alternatives that are more environmentally sustainable are being researched and developed. This includes filters and masks constructed from biodegradable agricultural crop waste.
The research is also in progress to discover ways to recycle used face masks that are single-use and discarded to make road pavement materials.
The use of disposable masks for cloth to guard from COVID has been long recommended; however, it’s still worth holding them in case you need to backup.
Six ways to reduce our daily waste
Even in the event of a pandemic, people aren’t looking to waste resources. It’s quite evident that “Plastic Free July” saw an enormous increase in participation, from 250 million people in the year 2019 and increasing to 326 million by 2020.
There are many ways to cut down on the amount of waste you consume without harming your health. The most important thing is to concentrate on the behaviors you can control, like limiting disposable plastics. To reduce the amount consumption of disposable masks, think about the following:
- Making the switch towards refillable cleaning products in order to reduce packaging used for one-time use (there are delivery options too)
- If you’ve switched to grocery delivery online, opt for paper bags over plastic bags. You can either reuse them in your home or dispose of them after you’ve used them
- When dining out at home, reuse your leftovers, prioritize older foods, and stay clear of buying too much to reduce food waste
- If you’re more online-based, look for second-hand stores and peer-to-peer platforms that can give the items you’ve already bought a second life (there are delivery options available for this, too)
- Before throwing away household items (clothing, furniture, clothing), Try selling them or giving them away on the internet, and you’ll be amazed by what other people have found useful
- If household items are damaged, have them fixed, or make use of them for another usage, for instance, making use of worn-out clothes as cleaning rags.