By now we all know the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is by wearing a face mask. There’s no cure or vaccine yet, so prevention is the best tool we have in our tool belts at this point. Wearing face masks is crucial whenever we are in public or around people who are not in our “germ bubble,” but what is the most effective and least environmentally impactful way to wear a face mask on a regular basis?

Disposable masks have their place – in doctor’s offices and hospitals and other clinical settings where changing masks frequently is necessary and washing and reusing isn’t the best option. But for the vast majority of people, reusable masks are the way to go, both environmentally and economically.

Disposable masks have a major environmental impact. They are contributing to pollution in our waterways after being discarded in parking lots and are starting to wash up on beaches. Disposable masks create ten times the environmental impact of reusable masks, and in the UK alone they are expected to contribute 128k metric tonnes of plastic waste to landfills.

On top of that, disposable masks just aren’t meant to be worn long-term, and the definitely aren’t meant to be worn again. The bacterial count on disposable masks increases the longer it is worn, and it’s just not possible to adequately clean them and still have them be safe and effective.

Economically speaking, reusable masks are the way to go. While cotton masks are great at reducing the environmental impact of face masks, cotton is still resource-intensive to grow. There are some materials out there that are both environmentally friendly and more effective.

Cork is a natural resource that comes from the bark of a tree, and when that bark is harvested the tree absorbs five times more CO2. Cork is sustainable, biodiverse, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and PETA-approved. On top of that, cork is naturally antimicrobial, making it an optimal material from which to make face coverings.

Learn more about the benefits of cork face masks from the infographic below.