Who would have thought we’d be having this conversation? The wearing of a mask used to be associated with the sterile corridors of hospitals, or the streets of Far East Asia. Not Tesco’s.
As strange as the notion is, it is now crucial everyone does wear a mask on public transport and perhaps even in shops, depending on where you live. Mask wearing is now enforced with a fine in mandatory areas.
Since this is the new norm, it is definitely better to wear one that can be reused, rather than thrown out. This will save you money in the long run, make you more fashionable, and support the environment.
Since this is a new custom, can you imagine the number of disposable masks set to fill landfills? It was only the other day I spotted a disposable mask discarded in the street, and this is not the first time. The likelihood of anyone picking it up is next to zero. Its destiny may well be sea bound, or the local river.
Of course, there are a number of questions you might have when buying your new reusable mask:
- Where can I purchase a sustainable reusable mask?
- Do I need to buy a mask with a filter?
- Can I manage to find a sustainable reusable mask in the UK?
- What temperature do I need to wash my mask and how often?
- What material will be protective as a mask?
One important question however we must first approach, what is the science behind the wearing of a mask? Is there any science in it?
The UK government has published specific advice on the wearing of masks, which can be found here.
Mask wearing doesn’t necessarily protect the wearer from coronavirus itself, but it does protect from the spread of the virus to a certain degree. You can think of a mask as a barrier between your cough and someone else’s susceptibility. Yet, it could also help protect you from picking up coronavirus via someone else.
The effectiveness of a mask in protecting the wearer from the transmission of coronavirus has been debated. However, there is evidence that a mask DOES protect from external transmission. In other words, it protects an individual from droplets spread in other people’s breath and fluid (from coughing, sneezing or breathing). Therefore, it protects both the wearer and any individual close enough to the wearer.
The government is keen to point out that medical-grade masks are not to be purchased by the general public, as these masks should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers.
It is important to keep in mind that masks need to fit the wearer snugly, from the top of the nose to below the chin. There is no point if your mask has gaps or is loose, but obviously the mask cannot be so tight it obstructs breathing.
There’s a lot to think about…
Do I Need to Buy a Mask With a Filter?
A filter is definitely an option in your mask buying. However, it is not essential.
The purpose of a filter in a mask is to prevent particles like dust entering your mouth. There is reason to believe that a filter increases the risk of infected particles from the wearer being more susceptible to the public. This is because a filter allows for particles to leave the mask, it is essentially a gap.
Masks with valves are not used in hospital operating rooms as the environment is meant to be sterile; this sums up the mechanism of a valve.
The most important factor in the buying of a sustainable and reusable mask is the thickness of material used.
What Material Will Be Protective in a Mask?
When buying a sustainable and reusable mask, look for material that is dense with the weave closely knitted together. Such materials would be cotton or linen. This makes sense because the thicker the material, the lesser the likelihood of droplets entering or leaving the mask.
Linen is particularly useful because it is antibacterial and a difficult environment for bacteria to breed and survive.
Cotton also serves as a really effective material because it can be made so thick. Many of the online handmade masks are made of cotton, and make a great option.
Cotton and linen can also be sustainable depending on the source. Buying a mask that can be washed will make your mask more sustainable already, but bare in mind cotton can be costly on the environment.
India is one of the largest exporters of cotton in the world, and two thirds of its production is irrigated with ground water. That means, water is taken from the river and lakes to be used to grow cotton.
An alternative option is to choose organic cotton, which is grown with far less pesticide and far fewer chemicals.
Even better, choose linen. Linen needs very few pesticides in order to produce and uses a lot less water than cotton. It is an extremely sustainable material, and also one of the strongest.
You can check for the organic certification through the Global Organic Textile Standard.
A company already using organic cotton in their clothing is Thought Clothing, although they don’t sell masks! Instead, you can find some below.
Where Can I Buy Sustainable, Reusable Masks in the UK?
Here is a list of places where you can find that mask that is effective, sustainable and reusable.
Etsy, as a haven for anything handmade, has got to be one of your first stops when perusing for a sustainable and reusable mask.
They have a range of sustainable and reusable options, which are both fun to wear and eco friendly. Be sure to check the specifications of each item, as it does not necessarily mean the item has been made with organic or certified cotton.
An easier option is to instead opt for linen.
If you prefer cotton, we like these guys. They have created a cotton mask that adheres to specifications, is washable and uses cotton certified to be harmful chemical free.
Another good option is to use masks made from recycled material, such as these guys.
eBay also has some great UK options, which means less time waiting on the post and you are also supporting a UK business too.
There are quite a few handmade retailers on eBay now, with some seriously original material that stands out from the crowd.
If you can make wearing a mask fun, that is half the battle. Remember those specifications!
You can even get masks using recycled cotton. Also supporting small UK business.
FFSB stands for Frank, Finn, Sebastian and Bella. They are four teenagers who, faced with a whole lotta time on their hands, thought they would set up their own business in lockdown.
They decided to create sustainable and reusable face masks via a factory in Portugal, using upcycled material.
Their main aim is to provide you with a mask that does not make you look like a dentist.
We think they have achieved their aim and how nice to be able to support the entrepreneurs of tomorrow… and today!
Double lined and with all specifications in mind, these are fashion faux pas and fool proof.
Note: Even though these might look a bit like disposable masks, they are not, they are for your washing machine.
FFSB even donate 10% of their profit to a charity called Young Minds, who support children with mental health issues.
4. Big Green Smile
Even Big Green Smile have got themselves onto the sustainable mask wagon.
Even though there is not a huge choice, there is a good choice and we recommend this mask. Made from 100% organic cotton, washable and adhering to strict specifications, this mask has actually been tested for its medical efficiency.
This is a wonderful option if you would like that mask which goes a bit further, but also sustainable and reusable.
They sell this particular mask in a ten pack, so please do not fret at the price. Each lasts for 30 washes, so one pack will last one year.
Let’s face it, face masks are here for good.
Sustainable and Reusable Mask FAQs
What temperature do you wash your mask at?
Research suggests that washing the mask at a temperature of at least 65 Celsius will kill the majority of bugs. Even though this is a really high temperature and not eco-friendly at all, the good news is that this only needs to be done for five minutes, to be effective.
Wash your mask separately and at high heat for five minutes, and you should be good to go… once dry of course.
What are the precautions when using a mask?
- It is extremely important that before putting on a mask you wash your hands with soap and water.
- Try to avoid touching the mask at all and only touch it using the elasticated straps, to take it off.
- Wash your hands after you have taken the mask off, and put it in the washing machine alone straightaway.
- Think about the practicalities before purchasing a mask. Are there any facial obstructions in the way i.e a beard or piercings? The mask needs to be as close to your face as comfortably possible and there should be no gaps. If you do have a beard or piercings, you will have to think of alternatives.
- Do not wear a mask that is loose or has gaps.
In conclusion, the best type of sustainable and reusable mask is one in which uses organic cotton or linen. These are both sustainable fabrics, and a reusable mask will go towards creating less waste.
An advocate for natural health and food is thy medicine, Karen has been on an alternative health journey for the last 20 years. A newly yoga devotee, she is also passionate about reducing waste and impact upon the planet.