Skip to content

Week Six – Farrah

Update on Mask Pots

I have been watching my cress grow in their mask pots this week, starting from nothing but a seed. It is interesting how some grow faster than others, for no apparent reason. Most of the pots are made from the same fabric materials, they are all on one tray together, they all face the sun and are rotated every few days. That is the excitement of nature; although we rely on it heavily, can we really trust it? There are endless possibilities with nature and so much can go wrong so easily. I think it makes you value nature more when you begin to grow something; it makes you realise how important it actually is to our lives. Even with my small amount of cress that I am growing, I feel the importance of it – my project relies on it. It is so hard to imagine being a farmer who has this pressure tenfold for the growth of his crops; his livelihood relies on it. Although I am nervous for the future of my little seedlings, I am so excited to watch them grow…

Environmental Effects of Disposable Masks

For my own work and the workshop preparation, I have been collecting statistics and facts on disposable masks. This is useful for raising awareness of the effects of disposable masks in the environment, to get people to stop using single-use plastic. Awareness of single-use plastic was very high around a year ago, but due to the Coronavirus, the amount of waste has sky-rocketed again. Sometimes I think that people do not always think that disposable masks are bad for the environment as they are shown and normalised on TV, in the news and in shops. They also feel like they are made from paper more than plastic, so perhaps people do not realise the dangers of them for the environment.

  • As much as 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into oceans each year, according to a 2018 estimate by UN Environment. The Mediterranean sees 570,000 tonnes of plastic flow into it annually – an amount the WWF has described as equal to dumping 33,800 plastic bottles every minute into the sea.
  • The UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimates that global sales of disposable masks will total some $166 billion this year, up from around $800 million in 2019.
  • According to some estimates, globally we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month.
  • It can be expected that around 75 per cent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. Aside from the environmental damage, the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fisheries, is estimated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at around $40 billion.
  • The mask waste affects certain groups of people such as waste collectors who are the first to come across discarded masks and are at the highest risk of contracting the disease.
  • Even when disposed of correctly, it is claimed PPE cannot be recycled, as it is considered medical waste.
  • “If even only 1 per cent of the masks were disposed of incorrectly…this would result in 10 million masks per month dispersed in the environment. Considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams this would entail the dispersion of over 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature.” – The Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • In June, the French non-profit Opération Mer Propre sent divers along the seabed of the Côte d’Azur, and found dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitiser beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, mixed in with the usual litter of disposable cups and aluminium cans. 
  • Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment agency UNEP, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple by 2040, from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.
  • According to Waste Free Oceans, disposable plastic masks that end up at sea could take up to 450 years to fully decompose and leave the marine ecosystem.
  • Campaigners in France have warned that if single use masks continue being used at the current rate, there could soon be more masks in the Mediterranean than jellyfish.
  • The presence of plastic in the ocean affects the animals, pollutes the ecosystem, and can displace breeding grounds or migratory routes of multiple fish species.
  • Marine animals such as the dolphins, seals, and other species of mammals or fishes can easily mistake the masks for food and can either end up ingesting them or choking on them.
  • Disposable masks contain plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them.
  • In the digestive system of a crustacean found nearly 7,000 meters deep in the Mariana Trench, scientists discovered microplastic fibres. This is dangerous particularly to humans as when fish eat microplastics, if close to the surface, they may be in turn eaten by humans. Degraded plastics can absorb high concentrations of toxic metals, like mercury, lead, and cadmium, as well as other chemical pollutants.
  • The masks you throw away could end up killing a whale.

Some powerful videos and articles:

Initial Ideas for Mask Sculpture

These are designs for initial ideas I had for displaying my work in an installation. I have known throughout the project that there would be two elements to my work; one, to produce an artistic outcome in some form, and two, to raise awareness of plastic pollution. I think this is necessary as people often respect art if it is done ‘well’, and are more likely to listen to the message it is telling, than if it is done with no care.

The first idea I had for exhibiting my work would be to take all of the little pots which I have been creating using the masks, and hang them off the branches of a tree. The concept behind this would be to return nature (the cress) into nature (the tree). I think this would look both aesthetically pleasing and suit my concept. I like the idea that it would complete the cycle in a way – the masks were originally found by me in all different areas in Aberystwyth; I have transformed them, given them a new purpose and then used them to raise awareness. I will continue to think of ideas to finish my project in the exhibition.