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5 COVID19 ethical face masks

· Conscious Consumer

We have entered a new phase of COVID19 rules here in the UK. Shops are now opening up, travel is opening up (and in some cases then closing again - sorry Spain!) and the government is giving us money off eating out. The trade off for this new freedom is the introduction of the rule that you must wear a mask in shops and on public transport. Generally speaking, for travel moving forwards, it seems like this will be the norm.

Honestly, I hate wearing a mask – it makes me feel like I can’t properly breathe – but the science is saying that they have increasing value in reducing the spread of COVID19, so along with everyone else I am doing my part by wearing my mask in those spaces where they are required.

Wearing a Deakin and Blue mask on the train

What has surprised me, now I'm getting out and about more, is how many people are wearing disposable masks. With the increasing evidence that PPE is adding to the pollution in the ocean and the already heightened awareness of single-use waste, I was making a (clearly flawed) assumption that people would naturally choose reusable. It seems that in cities in particular transport hubs are passing out free masks, which removes the incentive to invest in a reusable option. Individuals have also been stocking up on boxes of disposable masks at home. Long term this will be a false economy, as it seems likely that we will be wearing masks in a variety of situations for the foreseeable future – a handful of reusable masks in rotation will always be a cheaper option long term (and less impactful in terms of waste). Where medical masks are purchased, it also continues to impact the availability of medical grade masks for medical and care workers.

Ethical, reusable face masks

I really do try to have a positive impact with every purchase I make, so I wanted to share some of the most ethical, sustainable and positive impact mask purchases I have come across in the last few weeks. How can we do more good with our mask purchases, if you are not extending the wholesome lockdown activities by making one at home, of course.

I am going to preface this list with ‘the best mask might be the one you already have’

I am going to preface this list with ‘the best mask might be the one you already have’. At the core of sustainability principles is the production of less waste so, if like me, you have a drawer full of Buffs, you might decide a new mask purchase is a little unnecessary. The slightly tricky thing at the moment is that the temperature in the UK is pretty high to be wrapping your whole head in an original tight buff (sorry buff). I am predicting that I will be using them once the weather dips again – which I’m sure will be in only a few days time... probably when I’ve decided to go camping.

5 ethical face mask options

Remember, no company is doing everything right. Choose a brand that is fulfilling the criteria that are most important to you and you will be supporting a brand doing more good.

The mask that I'm currently using is from Deakin and Blue – a women's swimwear company who make flattering swimsuits and bikinis out of waste fibres (like ocean plastic) to suit all body types. These masks are reversible, so you can go classic and low profile if you so wish or style it out with colourful Liberty print (just remember don't switch between the two without washing first!). They are made from 78% recycled materials with added sustainable lycra for comfort and have adjustable ear loops. I've worn this for 6 hours and it's been super comfortable.

Pricing is £12 for a single mask or £40 for a family pack of 4.

A certified B Corp, travel kit provider Cotopaxi are producing reversible cotton face masks from surplus fabric. These masks also have a wire nose adjustment to fit to your face. Cotopaxi are also making a commitment that at the moment, if you buy a mask they will donate one to someone in need through their non-profit partner Mercy Corps.

Pricing is €13 for a single mask, but discounts apply if you buy 3 or 5.

Maask Face Masks are made of recycled ocean plastic and for every purchase made they donate two masks to a hospital or care home. Their masks have a pocket for a disposable filter (not surgical grade) and come with an optional adhesive strip for the nose bridge.

Priced at £23 for a mask and 5 filters.

Thought Clothing masks are made from 100% organic cotton waste offcuts of their signature prints. Designed with a double layer so you can use with a (non surgical) filter if you wish, each purchase gives £3 to domestic violence charity Refuge. (Refuge have seen a 66% increase in calls and contact to their National Domestic Abuse Helpline since the beginning of UK lockdown.)

Buff have created a custom-made mask, as they have stated that their original products were not designed for use as masks or to prevent the passing or contraction of COVID19. The streamlined version is designed for use with 'replaceable' filters and provides 98% filtration efficiency, so there is a trade off of some waste from using this product. With a breathable design, they are also said to be suitable for sports use. Buff are creating positive impact by giving 2% of their overall profits to Unicef COVID19 relief. They say the masks meet surgical mask standards and are the only mask on this list that does.

UK pricing for an adult mask is £23.82, making them also the most expensive I've included.

PLUS... a note on hidden disabilities!

There are a variety of different disabilities, including hidden disabilities, that mean that individuals are exempt from having to wear a face mask. If this is you, consider wearing a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard and face covering exemption card to help to prevent misunderstandings.

If you've never heard of the sunflower lanyard, you can watch the video below and read more on the Hidden Disabilities website here. If you can, suggest to your company that they include an awareness of sunflower lanyards in your training – especially for public facing roles.

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