Tackling the Pandemic Sustainably

Words: Anand Iyer and Samr Calcutawala

Anand Iyer and Samr Calcutawala, Co-Founders of PreSols UK, explain why we shouldn’t sacrifice the climate as we tackle COVID-19 and offer a sustainable solution to the mask pollution problem.

When the UK announced lockdown on 25 March, 2020 general expectations were that early intervention and stringent lockdown by the Government would mean a return to normal by the end of May, at the latest. Now that we are all better armed with data and information about the virus, expectations have changed a lot. Many pundits are predicting the end of 2021 as the earliest we can get back to normal, if at all. A new normal with significantly more stringent hygiene standards and acceptable norms now seems within the realms of being possible. While we can all debate about the future, one thing is for certain: short-term measures to tackle the pandemic will have a catastrophic impact on the environment and the price will be borne by future generations.

The impact that plastic waste has on the environment is known to all, yet the world has taken decades to acknowledge it and put in place regulation to control its generation. The use of disposable masks, which are typically made of polypropylene, has proliferated the problem. So, what is the magnitude of waste we are talking about? According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 75% of used masks and other pandemic related waste will end up in landfill or in the ocean. What’s more, on top of the environmental damage, the financial costs in areas like tourism and fisheries will be around $40billion.

The solution is fairly straightforward – reusable facemasks. There are essentially two types of resuable masks that are generally available in the market. The first are face coverings with multiple layers of fabric but without a filter. For those of us with very low levels of exposure this is the most sustainable solution since these masks can be washed and used as many times as required. However, this option might not be very appropriate for those with higher usage or exposure – for example someone using public transport to go to work. The second type are reusable face masks with inbuilt filters. These provide a higher level of protection – in some instances the same or better as general disposable masks. A recent working paper by the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub at University College London estimated domestic demand for the UK at 24.7 billion masks a year. However, the demand for domestic face masks in the UK will be around 136 million a year – if we move to reusable masks. The difference between those figures alone is enough reason to start using reusable facemasks.

Furthermore, switching to reusable masks can reduce procurement costs for individuals and businesses by nearly 50% versus disposable masks. The icing on the cake is that reusable masks are more comfortable to wear and more breathable than their disposable counterparts in most instances.

The Story Behind PreSols

We founded PreSols in May 2020 in response to the pandemic. Our vision was clear – we wanted to create safer, better, long-term sustainable solutions that leave the least impact on the environment. We started with designing reusable facemasks with the help of our manufacturing partners in India. After more than three months of experimenting and feedback from 1000s of customers on Amazon, we were successful in designing a mask that was safer and more comfortable for users. All our facemasks come with SSMMS filters that have over 95% Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) and Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE). Now our mission is to encourage corporates to switch from disposable to reusable and not only save on mask procurement costs but also have a significant positive impact on the environment.

It is very important for us to continue to search for better alternatives to reusable masks. We have now gone one step further by making these masks even more sustainable. Our hemp-based masks have an outer fabric that is fully biodegradable and our recycled PET plastic range are made from waste PET plastic bottles. The filters are still polypropylene and, as technologies continue to develop, we will find more sustainable options for the filter as well.

We will eventually win the fight against COVID, but how we go about it will determine what is written in the history books. With a bit of precaution, consideration and thoughtfulness we can ensure that collateral damage to the environment is at a manageable level for future generations.  

Anand Iyer and Samr Calcutawala are Co-Founders of PreSols UK Pvt Ltd, a London based Company that provides sustainable hygiene products and solutions. They have provided the Conduit Team with reusable facemasks to wear around the building as we work to keep our community safe and healthy.

Would you like to write for Conduit Insights? Click here to learn more and share your idea.