Single-use masks also referred to as disposable masks have multiple layers of different nonwoven fabric materials. Their function is to reduce transfer of respiratory droplets and therefore provide protection for the wearer and those in contact with the wearer. They don’t seal tightly to the wearer’s face and may or may not be fluid-resistant. Single-use masks, as the word indicates, are designed for single use. The reason for this is the deterioration that happens to these masks with prolonged use. Factors that contribute to deterioration are moisture exposure, exposure to chemicals, heat and radiation. [1,2]

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm and suddenly every person needed a mask. The availability of single-use masks at the start of the pandemic made the choice convenient and helped reduce the spread significantly, but the question remains: Are single-use masks still the best choice? The facts are that many people around the world are currently reusing single-use masks to save money and reduce waste. We can agree that saving money and reducing waste are both noble pursuits but at what expense? 

Reusing a single-use mask is dangerous for your health and the health of those around you. Aged single-use masks can release fibers that can cause irritation of the skin, mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract. Whether these fibers can be inhaled deeper into the respiratory tract is unlikely but further research is needed. [3] The most concerning fact is that research has shown that the Corona virus can last up to 7 days on a single-use mask. This is why, when a single-use mask is reused, it can result in contamination and contribute to infection and spreading the virus. The World Health Organisation recommends: “Medical masks are for single use only” and should be discarded immediately, preferably into a closed bin.” [4]

Another danger posed by single-use masks is the danger to the environment. This danger is not so much due to reusing single-use masks but using single-use masks in general. Using historical data as an indicator, scientists predict that 75% of used masks will end up in landfills and the ocean. The reality is that these single-use masks are made from long-lasting plastic materials that are not biodegradable and therefore will remain for decades polluting our planet. Not to mention the dangers for plants and animals. [5]

The above mentioned is the reason Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company decided to refocus our efforts as a developer of nanofiber products and materials. We are passionate about creating solutions that are sustainable, safe, available, and support our community health workers. The Rethink Reusable Surgical Mask Filter is a removable and reusable (up to 9 times) nanofiber medical mask filter that offers a more sustainable alternative to single-use masks. 

It is time to Rethink your face mask. 

Resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html
  2. FDA. Face MAsks, Including Surgical Masks, and Respirators for COVID-19. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/face-masks-including-surgical-masks-and-respirators-covid-19#:~:text=The%20CDC%20does%20not%20recommend,to%20conserve%20surgical%20masks.
  3. World Allergy Organization Journal. A new form of irritant rhinitis to filtering facepiece particle (FFP) masks (FFP2/N95/KN95 respirators) during COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.worldallergyorganizationjournal.org/article/S1939-4551(20)30377-X/pdf
  4. WHO. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Masks. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-masks
  5. NCBI. Covid-19 face masks: A potential source of microplastic fibers in the environment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297173/
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Guidance for Extended Use and Limited Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators in Healthcare Settings. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hcwcontrols/recommendedguidanceextuse.html