SUSTAINABILITY in a pandemic and PPE

I will admit to being slow to climb onboard the environmental train when it comes to plastics. But having gotten on board, the about turn back in March 2020, when I suddenly found my own reusable bamboo cup refused, in a coffee shop in favour of their disposable cups, was a bit disconcerting. And that was just the start of the environmental disaster that has swept in, hand in hand, with the Covid19 pandemic! The amount of disposable masks being used by the NHS & in hospital’s around the world is mind blowing, though totally necessary and add to that disposable gloves, face shields, aprons, etc.

All the good we have been doing as humans to reduce our use of plastics; with reusing plastic bags, buying cloth shopping bags, reusable water bottles, drinking cups, metal straws, etc. and reducing our reliance on plastics when shopping for food; all washed away by this horrific pandemic.

Reusable face masks:

I’m making fabric PPE. That’s good – anything that can be washed and reused and can be reused again and again is good, it reduces landfill waste. *I hope, the masks I sell, will be laundered and put away when this is all over, to be pulled out and used when flu season rolls round next winter. But whilst my masks are quality products, made to last, my free filters are polypropylene; so whilst they are a more sustainable product and you can use them and get some benefit from them without the filter… those filters are cut from Numatic vacuum bags and are 84% effective at filtering 0.3 microns, so I’m not giving up my filters!

I’ve seen the blase way, my fellow man has taken to their shopping trips to Aldi & Tesco’s in the last few weeks. It may still be civilised in the monitored queue outside but many are wondering in and out of each other’s 2 meter social distancing space, inside the shops without a mask or a care in the world.

I don’t step inside a building and haven’t done since lock down without my mask and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I see myself wanting to wear my masks in crowds to avoid winter coughs and colds, in doctor’s surgerys and hospital, crowded shops and on London underground, packed trains and on planes for the foreseeable. Maybe for me, mask wearing will become my new normal. I don’t like the idea but reality is staring us in the face.

So I worry about our planet. Yes, the environmental impact of car use & plane use may go down and there will be other upsides too but plastic usage is a sticky subject where health & life and death are involved and it will be interesting to see what the environmental fall out from this pandemic is and whether there may, from this, come advancements in materials for PPE that are safe for reuse and sustainable for the planet.

In the meantime, I have two small asks:

  1. If you want to wear masks and personally, I think we should all be being socially responsible, buy or make your own reusable cloth ones.
  2. Please, as inhabitant’s of this planet, can we all take our rubbish home or dispose of it properly. Disposable PPE is not recyclable. Shoppers are discarding their this PPE in the street, in hedgerows and in supermarket’s car parks, it’s getting into the oceans and water courses and it can end up killing wildlife.

PPE is not recyclable or biodegradable, and it needs to be treated as waste. Some experts say PPE is ending up at recycling plants. That may be due to misinformation about how to dispose of masks, gloves, and wipes. “Even if they are plastic, they are not treated as curbside recycling,” David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America, said in a CNN article. “They should be placed in a securely tight garbage bag and be put out with the regular trash for collection.”

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Just bin it properly. Lets, at least, try to be as socially and environmentally responsible as we can, in these trying times.

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