Masks have become a part of our daily wear now. More so, garment industries are showcasing masks with various designs to bring them in fashion. While masks are the way to go in the ‘new normal’, the environment is facing certain wraths of it. To keep it brief, the use of single-use masks and lack of proper disposal techniques are creating havoc in the environment. Papercup, a startup based out of Kolkata has taken an effort to combat it by making upcycled and reusable masks.

According to The Guardian, more and more number of used masks is slowly polluting the environment, especially the oceans. This is disrupting the life of aquatic animals. But, there must be a permanent solution to all of this. If the pandemic is going to cost us our treasured environment, then there is no way we could just sit and watch.

Somwrita Guha, Founder, Papercup said, “We have been actively working on awareness to lower the use of the single-use mask. The material used in most of these masks is polypropylene, which does not break down easily leading to marine plastic pollution or adding to the existing landfill. We have campaigned and promoted the use of washable, reusable fabric masks to address this devastating effect on the environment. Papercup has distributed fabric masks in NGOs and to people in need. Additionally, we have encouraged people to make their masks at home by sharing mask-making templates with interested people."

Papercup took the initiative to reduce the usage of single-use masks by making more and more reusable masks that are not harmful to the environment. Guha said, “In March when we first started making masks we were using up cycled fabric from our households. They were homegrown and stitched by local women. In the following months, when the lockdown began to relax a bit we started printing our unique designs on cloth. The raw materials that go into making these masks are fabric, elastic for the ear loops and printing dye.”

The single-use masks are giving way to active global waste, which seems to be increasing with every single use PPE kit. There are almost millions of masks, gloves and other single-use equipment that are being thrown out every day and these further get collected in the oceans, polluting the oceans causing more marine lives to drive away from them. Similarly, used masks also cause a further rise in diseases and many places lack proper disposing methods. Guha said, “For every decision we make at Papercup, we try to remember the triple bottom line approach of 3P's which are Profit, People and Planet. As individuals and businesses, we have to work towards sustainability. So, the idea is not to have a major share of the pie but to make sure there is enough pie left for future generations. By using reusable Eco-friendly masks we make a significant difference in global plastic waste. Moreover, from consumer’s perspective fabric masks that one can reuse are way cheaper than your daily budget of using a mask a day. “

The environment including the plants, animals and also the human beings must not suffer due to the emergence of chemical and plastic waste in the form of PPE kits. One pandemic must not lead to another and for that, it is our duty as citizens to ensure safety and ways in which we can avoid the accumulation of global plastic waste.

Somwrita Guha further comments, “I am no environmental expert but I have always thought and acted deeply about the issue. The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a part of the new normal. For the general public, a fabric facemask is enough. For people who need more protection like in the healthcare industry, we should ensure the right waste disposal practices. So, in my opinion we should limit the use of single-use PPE unless our occupation requires it.”

Written By: Srijani Roy Chowdhury