Trying to stay safe and be well during the pandemic?
Great idea! But, before you go online and click “add to cart,” consider those old t-shirts in the back of your closet, or the scrap fabrics sitting in the bin under your sewing machine. Making your own mask is a great way to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus. It can be a relaxing activity to pass the time during quarantine using material that would have otherwise been thrown away. You can make them on your own, start an assembly line with housemates, make them for loved ones, or even make them for essential workers!
Recently, the Center for Disease Control recommended that even people who aren’t showing symptoms of the virus should wear a cloth face mask to help slow its spread. While handmade masks do not replace medical grade protective gear, they allow some level of protection to communities in times where social distancing is not an option, and our community of essential workers. In addition to the wonderful zero-waste potential of making your own mask, doing so can decrease the overwhelming demand for surgical masks and N-95 respirators that we are seeing throughout the United States. These supplies are crucial for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
When the rest of us make our own masks, we can reduce the scarcity of these resources and allow them to be obtained by those who need them the most in order to do the greatest good and we can do this while reducing the spread of illness and reducing our environmental impact.
After all, this health crisis is no silver lining for our planet, warns Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. The pandemic, among other impacts, has resulted in an increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated, as well as single-use disposable products. According to the EPA, the average American sends 4.4 pounds of trash to the landfill every day, and this statistic references the trend when there isn’t an international pandemic. Much of this trash ends up in the ocean. Now is the time to limit new purchases and reuse materials more than ever.
Mask-making allows us to build on the skills of living a zero-waste lifestyle. It’s giving thousands of people the chance to sit in front of their sewing machines or pick up a sewing needle and acquire knowledge that can be translated into other forms of crafting and reuse, such as sewing your own grocery bags or DIY menstrual pads. It’s one of many doors to sustainability. It also gives us a chance to practice a needed form of social sustainability, in that we are present to support members of our community.
As Kathryn Kellogg, author of101 Ways To Go Zero Waste reminds us, it’s not about perfection. Not every zero-waste approach works for everyone. If you are trying, or even considering, you’re doing great. “It’s about using your life and your actions as an act of protest against our current linear economy. It’s about connecting with ourselves, others, and our planet,” Kellogg says.
Want to make masks for our unsung heroes, or the most vulnerable members of our community? Check out (mask)MAKERS PGH, an alliance of local small businesses who are working to fill the need for face masks at grocery stores, funeral homes, pharmacies, gas stations, nursing homes, and more.
You can sign up to donate materials, cut fabric, or even do the sewing. (mask)MAKERS will pick up your packaged masks and materials upon request, as an effort to keep volunteers safe and healthy.