Eye on Environment: Diverting face masks from landfills is essential for our future

Ayaz Hyder
Guest Columnist

The face mask is perhaps the most iconic symbol of 2020.  

While the face mask reminds us that a global public-health crisis remains, we also must stay vigilant about the global-warming and the climate-change crises.  

Ayaz Hyder is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.

These inextricably are linked because of the rapid impact of behavior changes on the environment.  

For example, air-pollution levels went down when we stayed home during temporary closures of workplaces, schools and other large gatherings, but those impacts were short-lived as the economy reopened. The face mask, though, is one link between the two crises that may have long-lasting consequences.  

One reason for this is that many of us have become used to wearing face masks when we have been concerned about our own health and the health and well-being of our loved ones. As a result, we might be more inclined to wear face masks the next time we are not feeling well from a mild cold, fever or cough.  

For example, imagine that a majority of Hilliard residents decided to wear face masks after the current pandemic ends. While our choice is a noble public-health prevention strategy, it poses a new challenge for global warming and climate change.  

Most of the face masks we use outside of healthcare facilities are not recyclable.  

This includes masks you may have made or bought from an enterprising individual who added your favorite team's logo. Even the face masks many stores are providing at entrances are not recyclable.  

Why does this matter? Well, what does not end up in the recycling bin likely will end up in our landfills.  

If we can do something about diverting face masks from landfills, then there is no better time than now to think strategically about how we protect the Earth from getting sick from what protects us from getting sick. 

Here are a couple possibilities:  

• We can try to recycle face masks using paid recycling services. This gets expensive if we scale it up to everyone wearing face masks. Also, we might go through a couple of face masks a month.  

• We can try to reuse masks by washing cloth masks, which is doable for many but still needs to be washed regularly. And, honestly, who really needs to do more laundry?  

• We can try to reduce our use of masks when the pandemic ends by using them only when we are feeling under the weather.  

While these examples (the three Rs) are applicable to face masks, we need to come up with more long-term and sustainable solutions. We should start working on these solutions now so that when the next pandemic or public-health crisis arrives we are ready to use life-saving recyclable face masks.  

This will not only protect us and our loved ones but also the Earth that we call home. 

Ayaz Hyder is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.