Face coverings - the good and the bad

Alex Wild 2016

Alex Wild
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
17th July 2020

Those of you who regularly use supermarkets will have seen that the numbers of people already doing so has been increasing, but there hasn’t been a consistent approach to this, and I’ve never been asked to put one on. Some recent trips have seen almost two thirds of shoppers wearing them, other times it's been less than one in ten.

With rigorous social distancing practices now appearing to erode, I think it was inevitable that this “face covering” rule would be announced. I have started wearing one as I am now back at work serving Assurity Consulting’s customers around the country, so location and expectation are dictating use in addition to my P3 (face fit checked) mask for Legionella and asbestos work as needed!

The new global adoption of the practice of wearing face coverings has bought its own problems, however, with a huge increase in the numbers of disposable single use masks now being used around the World. They are cheap and easy to keep in a pocket or bag, so the appeal is obvious. But ranges of these coverings also contain plastics and have inevitably started to form a growing percentage of the litter seen on our streets and elsewhere. Across Southern Europe there have been reports of face coverings (along with discarded gloves and bottles of sanitiser) starting to appear in large quantities below the waves of the Mediterranean. Being light and relatively buoyant, conservationists have described them as floating like jellyfish on the surface.

Closer to home, I visited a large retail store yesterday and saw several face masks lying in the car park and I’ve also started to see them at the side of the road when I’m going for my daily exercise too. The additional concern for me is with those responsible for cleaning up this mess and the additional but unnecessary risk they are being exposed to. 

Where we must use them there is good an alternative solution, and one I’m follow, the use of reusable masks/coverings. These can also be reasonable cheap, or you can even make your own - there are lots of online videos showing you how to re-purpose old t-shirts or hankies - and most can go in with your regular washing. You can also get lots of designs and colours, not just surgical light blue/green.

As someone who’s tried both, I can attest that the reusable ones are often much more comfortable. It is inevitable that some will be littered but, I think most people will hold on to them and so reduce the amount of waste they are producing.

I’m also an advocate for avoiding plastic gloves. Regular hand washing is more effective and you won’t be one of those people who completely misses the point by wearing them around a supermarket and then keeping them on as they get back into their car and drive off spreading whatever could be on them all over their steering wheel (which is also true of course if you don’t wash/sanitise your hands)!