Post COVID-19 insights on sustainability and waste

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cover photo by Olgac Bozalp, as seen on Atmos

If you feel even a little more 'worried' for the world in 2020, you are right and definitely not alone. COVID-19 is a major pandemic, and we are learning recent information about it every single day. However, I am not talking about the worry of the disease but the worry for our world and unfortunately its defiled environment because of mask waste.

We are experiencing an extraordinary year. I don't know you, or your elders, but nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I am extremely confused and although trying not to think about it, obviously I experience it every day. I am worried for plastic pollution in earth's environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat and of course humans. Nowadays especially the waste of surgical masks, I am sure you will agree with me when I say -thinking that one mask must be used only once- we usually use two or three of them every single day when we go out.

Yes, I am tired of buying masks and forgetting to put them on when I'm just about to leave and lock the door; I am tired when I get out of the car and try to find my mask that I just put it on my upper arm 5 minutes ago. The thing is, we ought to use masks yes if we do not want to get the disease right? But where do we put them when we finish using them? Where do we dispose of them? Do you know where you have left your mask? Can you remember what do you do with them if you want to change your mask during a walk? Or oops, you dropped it on the floor by accident, and there, you put another one on, the old one isn't so important anymore and let's be honest you are not interested with that one anymore.

The chemicals in the masks are a threat to our environment. Besides non-woven fabric and activated carbon, medical face masks also contain large amounts of polypropylene, which is a commodity plastic that takes a long time to degrade and releases a lot of toxic substances during the process. As all face masks sold on the market should go through rigorous quality testing, their disposal will only create negative impacts on our environment and ecosystems.

According to statistics by the Environmental Protection Administration, 20,000 tonnes of waste and debris were cleaned up from the rivers, of which, roughly 2% was man-made, and of the 2%, 28.8% was plastic, mostly general waste thrown out by the public.

According to Greenpeace International, ''An increase in using disposable surgical face masks is also creating unwanted impacts on our environment, evidenced by piles of discarded face masks found near the coasts of Hong Kong, the United States, France, Mainland China, and Taiwan. Undoubtedly, face masks are now an environmental and social phenomenon.'' This shows that disposable masks are causing massive plastic waste.

We should consider our actions before we take any as there will be consequences after. In my view, there are plenty of environmental friendly, reusable alternatives of any non-environmental substance we can choose from and maybe we should consider using them more often.

Article by Öykü Uzunçarşılı

About Öykü Uzunçarşılı

Öykü holds a Master of Digital Marketing from the University of Technology of Dublin/Ireland. Since she finished college, she has worked at Universal Music, Apple, Salt Galata and bunch of start-ups. She lives in the most neighbourly town possible, Yeniköy/Istanbul.

As a bachelors in business and masters in marketing graduate she works as a marketing brand director at a contemporary design house where her mainly duties involve; pricing, products, e-commerce, website UX, digital advertising and social media.

She has a passion for both technology and sustainability. She believes that if technology is properly used, it can be the most beneficial for our environment and ecosystem. When not working, writing or editing, Oyku enjoys playing tennis, loves 80’s rock’n’roll, reading and reduces the environmental impact by riding with her e-scooter around town. To get in touch, email her at