COVID Collateral Damage: The Environmental Toll

Are disposable masks hindering sustainability efforts?

COVID Collateral Damage: The Environmental Toll

Moussa Dibassy '23, Editor

“I definitely see masks around in public and on the ground. I think that Westtown could figure out a way to provide students with reusable masks, I don’t think it would be that difficult….It’s definitely a problem.” head of Westtown’s Green Coalition, Isabel Yuste ’22 said. Yuste argued that Westtown should provide reusable masks to students as an alternative to single-use masks. 

One month after the closing of the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 for short – the world has once again been reminded that urgent action is crucial for the preservation of life on Earth. A summer of record heat waves, devastating torrential rain, and destructive forest fires reminded us of a reality that awaits. Although tangible progress on climate change mitigation is often absent from the agendas of  world leaders and fossil fuel companies, there is change that can be made on smaller levels – like here at Westtown. 

“There was certainly conversations about that early on as far as what recommendations that we could make to both our employees, staff and students,” said Teacher Mich Canuso-Bedesem, the director of athletics and clerk of the Pandemic Programming and Operations team. “Because we are asking folks to supply their own, we can’t tell people what kind. Just like in Lower School lunch, you can’t tell kids that they can’t put their sandwiches in Ziploc bags. You encourage them to use sustainable, reusable materials, but people ultimately have their own personal choice,” Canuso-Bedesem said. “If we as a school come out and say ‘this is the type of mask that everybody should use and it’s found to be faulty, then there’s some liability around that,” Canuso-Bedesem added.

“We love slapping logos on things, we could make some Westtown masks. I feel like we should have the funding to be able to provide some kind of reusable mask even if it’s just two to each student in the upper school.” said Sophia Scholl ’22. Scholl, who is also co-head of  Green Coalition, thinks that Westtown can and should provide reusable masks. 

“Economically, it’s gonna pay itself off. If you’re continuing to buy single-use masks, it’s going to be expensive. But if you buy a reusable mask, and it’s more expensive, over time it will be worth it.” Yuste said. 

Reusable masking remains an idea with potential for actualization. Westtown has the opportunity to join a movement for global preservation, no matter how small-scale it may seem.

“Westtown’s a green ribbon school, so sustainability is definitely something that’s taken into account with most of the measures,” Yuste said. “I think that it’s something that’s difficult, and a lot of people are trying to address the fact that there’s more pollution because of the pandemic. You want to be safe first of all, and then hopefully you’re being sustainable, too.”