EcoWaste Coalition backs provision of free reusable cloth masks

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental health group working toward a zero waste and toxics-free society, welcomed the government’s initiative to provide free reusable or washable face masks to the public, especially “the poorest of the poor,” amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The group specifically liked the announcement made by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez that women’s cooperatives and micro-enterprises will be tapped for the production of at least 20 million reusable masks following the issuance by the Office of the President of Memorandum Order No. 49 last September 16.

Memorandum Order No. 49 tasked six government agencies, including the Departments of Budget and Management, Health, Social Welfare and Development and Trade and Industry, the Presidential Management Staff and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority “to coordinate and pool their resources and efforts into the production and distribution of face masks.”

Lopez yesterday said “the Office of the President wants something reusable so that it could be used multiple times and not the disposable type that has to be disposed of after being used just once or twice.”

“We support national and local government initiatives to promote the  community production and use of reusable cloth masks as these can be easily washed with detergent or soap and safely reused.  These initiatives will surely help in conserving resources, reducing plastic waste and in controlling the alarming pollution caused by the disposal of throw-away masks and other disposable personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Benosa highlighted some of the advantages of reusable cloth masks amid the health, economic, environmental and humanitarian challenges facing the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic,  including:

–  avoiding the generation of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable used face masks littering the streets and polluting beaches and water bodies;
– utilizing reusable textile as well as other locally-available indigenous materials;
–  providing alternative livelihood for community members, particularly tailors and seamstresses; and
–  supporting the “buy local, go lokal” drive and other sustainability initiatives.

Wearing of reusable face masks, the EcoWaste Coalition said, should complement and not replace measures recommended by health experts to counter community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

These core preventive measures include meticulous hand hygiene, good respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, and staying at home and seeking medical attention when feeling unwell.

As reusable cloth masks are not standardized unlike registered medical-grade masks used by healthcare professionals, the EcoWaste Coalition requested the government to mentor community cooperatives and enterprises on the basic requirements for good reusable masks.

The group added that the mandatory use of face masks currently enforced should also be accompanied by continuing public education on their proper usage, as well as strict regulation on the environmentally sound management of used disposable masks.