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A World Littered with Masks

I live near a river that’s abuzz with people all summer long. It’s an outdoor place where people can situate themselves at a safe distance from each other and temporarily not have to worry about the COVID-19 pandemic. Families have barbecues there, teenagers hang out with their friends, toddlers learn to swim, and strangers meet each other while spending time on the rocks and beaches that line the river. With people, though, garbage follows, and early every morning I walk the river with my dog and collect the trash that people have left behind. Bottles, chicken bones, torn tee shirts, punctured plastic rafts, and masks. Lots of masks.


I see these discarded masks as an expression of our values – our disconnection from the world around us, our disposable lifestyle, our disregard for the impact we have on the plants, waterways, and animals with whom we are interdependent.  Environmentalists are seeing signs that soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the ocean. Disposable products related to COVID-19 have increased garbage levels across the globe by up to 40% in some places. This worries me deeply.


At the same time, wearing masks is an act of care and generosity. We are protecting each other from illness. We are taking a deliberate step outside of convenience to connect ourselves to each other and think about our community. In wearing masks, we are listening to the scientists and doctors who know how the coronavirus is spread.


I love when people wear reusable cloth masks whenever possible because they protect both the environment and other people. Not only do these masks support artists and crafters across the globe, but they are kinder to the earth, its plants, and its animals. The people who have stepped up to sew masks have created a shared sense of purpose and inclusiveness through their generosity, and we can all extend that inclusiveness by taking care of the world around us.


We have shown in this pandemic that we can make monumental changes to our lives in order to take care of each other. When we attend to the life cycle of the objects we create, we also take care of the earth and all of the forms of life that depend on it.

 

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