Is the face mask biodegradable? (3 types of face masks)

This blog article shall answer the question, “is face mask biodegradable?

It shall also cover other areas related to face masks. Such areas include:

  • Types of masks.
  • Diseases that can be prevented by wearing a mask
  • Advantages of using masks.
  • CDC-approved masks.
  • Effects of disposal of masks on the environment.

Is facemask biodegradable?

No, the majority of facemasks are non-biodegradable because they are made from plastic polymers which are not susceptible to biodegradation.

Some types of facemasks are made from organic fabrics, and since organic fabrics are susceptible to microbial degradation, these masks can be biologically degraded.

Biodegradation is the process by which naturally occurring organic materials are broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small particles which are not harmful to the environment.

Biodegradation is carried out by different agents such as UV radiation, light, wind, and water but the most effective agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and assimilation.

The biodeterioration process loosens up the structure of the organic substance. For instance, the cell wall of plants is weakened by light, wind, water, and UV radiation.

Bio-fragmentation involves the breakdown of organic matter into smaller, nontoxic particles by bacteria and fungi, releasing water and carbon dioxide in the process.

Assimilation is the last stage of biodegradation and it involves the microorganisms taking up the products of bio-fragmentation into their biological machinery to be used to make energy.

Biodegradation can either involve the microorganisms using oxygen, aerobic biodegradation or it can involve the microorganisms which do not use oxygen, anaerobic biodegradation.

What is a facemask?

According to the Oxford dictionary, a mask is a face covering made of fiber or gauze and fitting over the nose and mouth to protect against air pollutants, or made of sterile gauze and worn to prevent infection of the wearer or (in surgery) of the patient.

With the onset of COVID-19, the use of masks has had a tremendous increase all over the world.

Masks can be used for several reasons but the main reasons are to prevent one from airborne infection, to prevent one from toxic fumes, and also used by doctors during surgical operations.

Types of masks.

Masks can vary in type depending on their materials or their purposes.

The following are common categories of masks.

  • Homemade cloth mask.
  • Surgical masks
  • N95 respirators.

Homemade cloth mask.

This is a type of mask that is made from cloth fabrics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests wearing cloth masks in crowded places in case of an airborne disease like COVID-19.

Although their efficiency is the least compared to other types of masks, homemade cloth masks can be improved by increasing the layers.

The CDC advises against wearing cloth masks to people with breathing problems, young children, or unconscious people.

Medical practitioners are also discouraged against these masks since their area of work involves interacting with infected people and therefore getting infected can be very easy.

Advantages of homemade cloth masks.

  • They are easy to make.
  • They are cheap and readily available.
  • They complement the other masks for those who can’t manage surgical and N95 masks daily.

Disadvantages of homemade cloth masks.

  • They do not replace the need for surgical or N95 masks, especially when there are high cases of airborne diseases.
  • They are not very effective since airborne diseases are very microscopic and therefore homemade cloth masks are permeable to these microorganisms.

Surgical masks.

These are disposable masks that cover a person’s mouth, chin, and nose.

They usually contain folds. They have a metal strip on the upper end to hold the mask on the user’s nose.

They also contain a rubber band strip that is used to hold the mask in place either by looping it behind the ears or by tying it behind the head.

Surgical masks have 2 or 3 layers to increase their efficiency. They can filter out more dust, fumes, and microorganisms than homemade cloth masks.

N95 masks.

These are the most efficient masks. They are popularly called respirators.

They come in different shapes, either oval or circular. They contain a respiratory valve on the upper side to improve air aeration.

In addition to their shapes, they also contain elastic bands which help in acquiring a tight seal on the face.

N95 masks have an efficiency of more than 95% and they filter viruses, bacteria, and fumes. 

They also are tight-fit and the size must be tested before being purchased since bigger masks will sag and let in microorganisms, fumes, and dust.

Due to their tight fit shape, N95 masks are uncomfortable to wear and can’t be worn for longer periods.

Due to their short supply, these masks are recommended for medical use only. 

The main purpose of wearing masks is to prevent one from toxic fumes, and also from getting infected by airborne diseases.

What are the types of airborne diseases prevented by facemasks?

The following are the types of diseases preventable by putting on a facemask.

  • COVID-19- this disease is caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Although it is yet to be confirmed as an airborne disease, researchers believe the virus can stay in the saliva or mucus for some time.
  • Common cold- this is a disease caused by rhinovirus. 
  • Influenza- this is a viral flu that is highly contagious. It is caused by different strains of viruses.
  • Measles- is a viral disease whose pathogen can harbor itself in the air for more than two hours.
  • Whooping cough- this disease is also called pertussis. It is caused by a bacteria, Bordetella pertussis.
  • Tuberculosis (TB)- is an opportunistic bacterial disease that infects a person when their immunity is low.

Symptoms of most airborne diseases.

The following are the most common symptoms of airborne diseases.

  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose.
  • Chest congestion.
  • Sore throat.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Headache.
  • Body aches.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fever and fatigue.

What is the future of biodegradable facemasks?

Most face masks are made up of plastic polymers which are non-biodegradable. 

Such plastics include polypropene, nylon, and polypropylene. They have great resistance to microbial degradation and they lead to landfills and water pollution.

Efforts are going on to make masks from bio-polymers. Bio-polymers are organic molecules made from plant or animal products.

The most promising organic materials for making facemask are; alginate, chitin, chitosan, gluten, polyvinyl alcohol, polylactic acid, polyethylene oxide, and cellulose acetate.

Gluten is a protein molecule obtained from cereals. It is a tough molecule with good adhesive properties and less permeability to particles.

When gluten is electrospun with polyvinyl alcohol, it forms filaments that can be used to make masks.

The electrospun filaments have been tested and found to be 99% impermeable to gold and silver nanoparticles, and therefore, they could have a filtration capacity of microorganisms of 70% and above.

Cotton and cellulose acetate have also been used to make masks. The efficiency of  masks made from these fabrics can be enhanced by:

  • Treating the masks with herbal substances like turmeric and Neem which are antimicrobial.
  • Adding an organic silicone polymer barrier to the mask will prevent microbial penetration.
  • Treating the masks with chemicals can prevent the proliferation of microorganisms.
  • Applying dye on the mask surface to stick the airborne microorganisms to the masks.

Is a face mask eco-friendly?

No, since most facemasks are made from synthetic polymers, they are non-biodegradable, and therefore reckless disposal into the environment will result in landfills and water body pollution.

According to a report, reusable masks are highly recommended over disposable facemasks to prevent pollution.

The report also advises the use of facemasks made from organic substances such as hemp and cotton because these facemasks are biodegradable and therefore do not pollute the environment.

Conclusion.

This article has answered the question of whether the facemask is biodegradable.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Types of masks.
  • Types of airborne diseases.
  • Symptoms of airborne diseases.
  • The future of biodegradable facemasks.
  • Eco-friendliness of facemasks.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is facemask biodegradable?

Why are reusable masks better?

Reusable masks are better because they reduce environmental pollution by reducing the number of disposed of masks in the environment.

What is the importance of using a reusable facemask?

Reusable face masks are important because they reduce the amount of facemask waste in the environment and hence reducing land and water pollution.

Reusable facemasks are also good for the economy because they help save cash that would otherwise have been used to purchase disposable masks.

What are the benefits of wearing masks?

Wearing masks has the following benefits:

  • It prevents one from contracting airborne diseases.
  • It prevents one from inhaling toxic fumes.
  • It cleans the air of any solid particles.

Citations.

Mandy Baker ( March 22, 2022). Types of Masks and How Effective They are.

Retrieved from:

https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/coronavirus/9-types-of-masks-and-how-effective-they-are

Pintu Pandit, Sunhankar Maity, Kunal Singha( 2 December 2020). Potential Biodegradable Facemasks to Counter Environmental Impact of COVID-19.

Retrieved from:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666790821001786

Jill Seladi-Schulman( June 2, 2020). Can Face Masks Protect You from the 2019 Coronavirus? What Types, When, and How to Use.

Retrieved from:

https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-mask

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