Please Trash Your Mask

The Perspectives page of The Blue and White offers students and staff an opportunity to express their thoughts about topics that affect our school, our community, or the world at large. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Blue and White.

The following article was contributed by Senior Jonathan Morris:

One of the first lessons we learn as children are to not litter. If most of us see someone litter, we might be obligated to go behind their back and put it in the proper receptacle. I take pride in picking up other people’s trash. I know that sounds asinine and a little self-aggrandizing, but I say that because one of the more minor yet still essential issues I have faced during the pandemic is witnessing the rampant littering of paper masks. I am always conflicted on how to solve this problem. The idea of picking up a stranger’s used mask that could potentially have COVID-19 droplets is quite disgusting, but it is something that needs to be done in a safe and effective way. Today I will be exploring the scope of this problem on a school-wide level and how it impacts the global environment, and how we can come together to limit paper mask littering to help make the spaces we occupy that much more cleaner.Although I am a LaunchEd student, I regularly go to campus to work on certain projects for my engineering magnet class. So, of course, I get to face this mask littering problem. As I walked through Apopka High School, I counted five used loose-leaf paper masks on the ground. I am not the only person at Apopka High School that has seen this issue play out.

Austin Comacho, a senior at Apopka High School, has particular disdain for the act of mask littering. “It is quite disgusting,” Austin said on a phone call Tuesday night. This issue does not only affect in-person students but also LaunchEd students who are weighing their options for the fourth quarter. Christian Martinez, a junior who is currently on LaunchEd, said on a call Wednesday that the rampant mask littering that he has heard about is “inhibiting his decision to return to the campus.” This issue has such a wide-ranging impact on student life, and unfortunately, not many students or teachers seem to have the resources to solve this significant biohazard problem.After further investigation into the issue, I have found that this pandemic has made this issue not only a community problem but a global one. For one, the littering of these masks can do nothing but add to the already dangerous amounts of pollutants in our oceans and waterways. According to the BBC, after a conversation with the Great British Beach Clean, the issues of disposable masks ending up on the UK’s beaches became notable enough that they asked volunteers to start taking note of how many of these masks they saw lying around. We have been told to cut up our soda rings before throwing them away, but there are no special instructions for disposing of masks, making them traps for unsuspecting sea creatures thinking they are fish. The United States, however, has not done much to mitigate this problem. The EPA has released material telling people not to recycle PPE but did not suggest how to dispose of them in a safer manner than just throwing them in a trash can. While throwing them away is an obvious alternative to littering, more needs to be done to not only endpaper mask littering but also make their disposal more environmentally friendly.So, what can we do to solve the problem? I think that at least on a school level, there should be a more strict enforcement of mask-wearing directly outside of the main courtyard, where a bulk of littered masks were found in my search. More signage that advises against mask littering is also an important step. To get rid of the remaining litter, giving janitors more resources to pick up the masks without actually touching them would be important and also protect the health and safety of custodial staff. On a global scale, I think that the process of advocacy and moving to make disposed masks more environmentally safer to dispose of by cutting off the strings before disposal is very important.