Environmental Impact of Surgical Masks Consumption in Italy Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Materials (Basel). 2022 Mar 10;15(6):2046. doi: 10.3390/ma15062046.


The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly changed the lifestyle of billions of people. Face masks became indispensable to protect from the contagion providing a significant environmental impact. The aim of this work is to propose possible solutions to decrease masks' impact on the environment. For this reason, different masks (surgical and fabric) were considered, and the CO2 emissions associated with the mask materials production were calculated. Carbon Footprint (CF) for each material composing the masks was evaluated through the database Ces Selector 2019. The software Qgis (version 2.18.20) allows us to elaborate the CO2 emissions maps for each Italian region. Finally, for surgical masks, which are often imported from abroad, the CF related to transport was considered. It results that fabric masks are a sustainable solution to prevent contagion. The total CO2 emission associated with the use of fabric masks from the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) to December 2021 resulted in about 7 kton compared to 350 kton for surgical masks.

Keywords: CO2 emission; COVID-19; Carbon Footprint; SDGs; environmental pollution; face masks; waste.