The ocean is changing colors,
The shores have an unusual lining,
You cover your face to dodge the virus,
Mother Earth gets exposed to a deadly disaster…
Humans are very selfish beings. Since time immemorial, we have always done what is in our best interest. Or at least what we think is in our best interest.
Ignoring the warnings of nature and turning a blind eye towards the havoc that we wreak in the environment has long been a norm.
And we are now moving towards another impending disaster.
Since the coronavirus has taken the world by storm, and even the most robust economies have stumbled, there has been a mad rush to find a solution. A safeguard, at least.
The face masks came as a rescue. A small piece of fabric/plastic tied around your face and nose can protect you from the virus that has no other cure.
What else could you have asked for in the times of a global pandemic?
Face masks are a simple, seemingly innocent solution.
But at what cost do you get this protection?
While you don’t have to pay much to buy a mask, the environmental cost is much more than what even the deepest pockets would be able to pay.
Let’s take a look…
The Environmental Cost of a Face Mask
Masks are being used on a massive scale. And their environmental impact is equally enormous. From the carbon emissions during production to high water usage and disposal issues, masks are causing a mess at every step.
When we are making masks, we are manufacturing misery.
Here are some of the ways in which the masks that you use to protect yourself, endanger others, and nature.
Possibility of biohazards
When you (incorrectly) dispose of the masks, you heighten the risk of catching the virus for those who come in contact with the mask. Litter collectors are at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 due to exposure to used masks.
If you think putting your mask in the specialist recycling equipment is a better alternative, you are mistaken. It still poses the risk of biohazards to waste workers as it often gets caught up in the equipment.
Destroying the Oceans
“100,000 marine mammals and turtles, and more than a million seabirds get killed due to marine plastic each year,” says research estimate.
Single-use surgical/medical grade masks are adding to this figure.
With little to no information about the correct way to dispose of these masks, the ocean shores are getting lined up with more masks than ever before.
The magnifying effect of single-use plastic masks
When you dispose of one single-use plastic mask, over the course of time (usually a few decades), it breaks into smaller microplastic and then nano plastic. The smaller it becomes, the wider is the reach of these plastic particles. They can enter food chains and even reach humans.
Consumption of water and carbon emission
The production of disposable face masks happens in factories. And just like almost every other factory, it requires water and energy. We hardly have enough water for drinking, and a lot of it gets diverted to the production of masks.
Also, the production uses energy and adds to carbon emissions.
Are Reusable Masks Any Better?
Reusable masks seem to be a much better alternative.
After all, we have always been taught that reusable is better than disposable.
While, in most cases, it is true, face masks are an anomaly.
If you have a reusable face mask with disposable filters, you cause more damage than the disposable masks. A study suggests that hand washing reusable masks with disposable filters created the maximum environmental impact.
What if you use masks with no filters?
Then again, you are not actually doing any good to nature.
If you use a reusable mask, there are two ways in which you can wash it.
You can hand wash it or wash it in your machine. And both these methods have their own cons.
Machine washing a mask uses more electricity – higher carbon emission. And handwashing masks uses more water and detergent.
None of these is a great option.
So, what should be done then?
First things first, stop using disposable masks. Until and unless you are in a medical setting, do not use disposable face masks.
In one of its advisory notifications, WHO mentioned that wearing medical masks when not needed (in non-medical settings) causes several issues.
One, there is a pressure created on the supply. The medical workers who need the masks are deprived of it.
Two, it gives you a false sense of security. People are more likely to neglect other sanitation and hand hygiene methods when they are using medical masks.
And three, it adds to the environmental hazard.
Now, before we can give the reusable masks a clean chit, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of their make and the material used.
Reusable masks are made of fabric. And this fabric is most likely to be cotton.
Now, you might feel that there is nothing wrong with cotton as it is a biodegradable fabric.
But, unfortunately, that is just a myth bubble waiting to be busted.
Cotton isn’t even half as good as it seems to be. It is biodegradable, that is for sure. But calling it environmentally-friendly isn’t actually right.
Cotton production has its own issues.
Excessive consumption of water. High usage of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers. And the use of forced and child labor are only some of the problems associated with cotton cultivation.
Now, we are standing at crossroads.
Either we can ditch the mask and save nature. Or we can fool ourselves and think of the mask as a messiah, and ignore the environmental cost.
With both these ways, we are inching towards the end…
Is there an Alternative?
Yes, there is an alternative.
Hemp face masks.
It sounds weird, outlandish, and even outright crazy at once, right?
How can the distant cousin of cannabis, a substance that gives you a high, help you stay safe from the virus and help the environment? And is it even legal?
There are lots of questions crusading across your mind, isn’t it?
Here are the answers to those questions.
Is wearing a hemp mask legal?
Absolutely. Hemp is not a drug. It is fabric. And the use of this fabric is completely legal.
Would hemp masks give you a high?
Not at all. Hemp does not contain the high-inducing substances that you find in cannabis. It is 100% safe to use a face mask made of hemp fabric.
Does hemp mask protect the wearer from the coronavirus?
While no mask can offer a 100% protection from the coronavirus, hemp face masks give you as much, if not more, protection as a cotton mask would.
Does hemp have no environmental impact?
If I say hemp has zero environmental impact, I’d be lying. But the carbon footprint of hemp in comparison to cotton is extremely low. It uses less water, no chemicals, and is proving to be a source of ethical and higher-paying livelihood for hemp farmers.
The only thing that now remains is acceptance for hemp face masks.
To make sure that your face mask doesn’t harm our nature, you just need to take one step in the right direction.
Choose hemp, choose a happier, healthier, and safer future.
Author Bio: Jaspreet Singh is the co-founder of the NGO Hemp Foundation which works for the empowerment of economically challenged farmers in Uttarakhand. He works as a bridge between the people and the business to make the farmers economically grow. He loves to hear their problems to provide them an explicit solution. He is also passionate about adventures tours, trekking, and long bike rides.