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    Review of 'The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy'

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    The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategyCrossref
    This is a relevant and timely paper with a thorough LCA.
    Average rating:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of importance:
        Rated 5 of 5.
    Level of validity:
        Rated 3 of 5.
    Level of completeness:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of comprehensibility:
        Rated 3 of 5.
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    None

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    The environmental dangers of employing single-use face masks as part of a COVID-19 exit strategy

    Author Summary: In this Open Commentary we are responding to the current situation in the UK where the general population is under lockdown measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without an available vaccine the government is considering different policy options to enable the restoration of freedom of movement and to restart the economy. One measure being considered by many countries is the mandatory wearing of face masks by the general population. This is due to a growing body of evidence to suggest that even basic face masks can be effective in reducing the spread of the virus, by reducing the range and volume of exhaled water droplets containing SARS-CoV-2. Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not currently recommend this measure as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, a growing number of countries have been adopting this precautionary measure including China, South Korea, Germany, Scotland, Spain amongst many others. In the UK due to shortages of PPE to supply to front-line workers in the hospitals and care homes, there is reluctance to adopt this measure in case this intensifies the shortage of PPE. If and when such PPE shortages abate there may be growing pressure to adopt this precautionary measure. The aim of this paper is to examine the environmental impact of the UK adopting masks for the general population in particular the amount of contaminated plastic waste produced. We conclude that if the government decides to require the wearing of face masks in public, it should mandate reusable masks and not single-use masks. This will preserve single-use mask supplies for front-line healthcare workers, and reduce the environmental risks associated with the disposal of 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic mask waste in the household waste stream. Additionally, the use of reusable masks by the general population would significantly reduce plastic waste and the climate change impact of this policy measure. The methodology of the paper is applicable to the analysis of other countries whose use of single-use masks is also likely to be an important environmental issue for the next 12 months.
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      Review information

      10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-EARTH.A6UIYT.v1.RFZNYX
      This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com.

      Environmental management, Policy & Planning
      Incineration,MFA,Systems modelling,Surgical mask,N95 respirator,LCA,Environmental policy and practice,Pre-symptomatic,Sustainability,PPE

      Review text

      General comments. This is a relevant and timely paper on the issue of face coverings used as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper is well-researched, contains interesting perspectives and discussions, and provides important insights on the topic. A key strength of the paper is the collaboration between researchers of different disciplines, but this is also the cause of a related weakness: the article reads like it was written by different authors and does not flow as well as it could. My main recommendation therefore is that article is revised so that the content is more cohesive and the ‘story’ flows better. Further comments are given below, and there are additional mark-ups on the attached file.

      Abstract. The abstract contains interesting information, but I’d recommend including more of the numerical results from the analysis, so that the abstract is better related to the findings of the paper. The journal guidelines state that abstracts should be up to 250 words. As it stands, the abstract is just over 300 words, so please reduce the word count in line with the journal guidelines. I’d also recommend writing the abstract as a paragraph rather than as a series of bullet points.

      Paper structure and overall content. If section numbers are to be used, then the introduction should be section 1. I’d suggest revising the balance of material in the paper, and/or revisiting the paper title and aims. The paper title and aims are concerned with the environmental impact (is dangers the right word?) of face masks. However less than 3 pages of the main paper directly cover this topic, which isn’t discussed in any detail until page 5. The other content is interesting, but it does not relate directly to the stated aims and title. Also there is some repetition throughout the paper, for example, much of section 5 is already presented earlier in the paper. Please condense the material so as to avoid repetition as far as possible.

      Methods. I don't think it's been clearly stated in the main text what the functional unit is for the LCA study (or that FU is an abbreviation of functional unit). Please make sure that the FU is clearly stated in the main text as well as in the appendix so that the reader can properly interpret the results in the main paper. The main text also does not state which impacts are being assessed. Please include this information in the main paper as well as in the appendix (at a minimum please refer to the relevant section of the appendix).

      Conclusions. It would be good to include the results of the LCA in the conclusions section, as the paper is concerned with environmental impacts. It would also be useful to relate the conclusions more strongly to the title and the aims of the paper - or to amend the title and aims of the paper? As it stands, there is a disconnect between the paper title and stated aims, and the conclusions.

      Appendix. The appendix outlining the LCA work is thorough, well written and clearly presented. However, please make sure that the assumptions used in the analysis match the text in the main paper; there is, for example, some confusion over the washing temperature as different values are given in the conclusions section of the main paper and in the appendix.

      Comments

      We have submitted a revised paper which addresses these comments as follows:

      "General comments. This is a relevant and timely paper on the issue of face coverings used as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper is well-researched, contains interesting perspectives and discussions, and provides important insights on the topic. A key strength of the paper is the collaboration between researchers of different disciplines, but this is also the cause of a related weakness: the article reads like it was written by different authors and does not flow as well as it could. My main recommendation therefore is that article is revised so that the content is more cohesive and the ‘story’ flows better."

      We thank the reviewer for their positive review of our paper and the strength of our multidisciplinary approach. We have rewritten paper to emphasise this aspect more and changed the title to reflect the revisions. Furthermore, we have taken the opportunity to update the paper to include recent studies on mask wearing and their impacts.

      "Abstract. The abstract contains interesting information, but I’d recommend including more of the numerical results from the analysis, so that the abstract is better related to the findings of the paper. The journal guidelines state that abstracts should be up to 250 words. As it stands, the abstract is just over 300 words, so please reduce the word count in line with the journal guidelines. I’d also recommend writing the abstract as a paragraph rather than as a series of bullet points."

      Agreed. We have done this.

      "Paper structure and overall content. If section numbers are to be used, then the introduction should be section 1. I’d suggest revising the balance of material in the paper, and/or revisiting the paper title and aims. The paper title and aims are concerned with the environmental impact (is dangers the right word?) of face masks. However less than 3 pages of the main paper directly cover this topic, which isn’t discussed in any detail until page 5. The other content is interesting, but it does not relate directly to the stated aims and title. Also there is some repetition throughout the paper, for example, much of section 5 is already presented earlier in the paper. Please condense the material so as to avoid repetition as far as possible."

      We agree. The paper is now restructured. Discussion and conclusion are now combined to avoid repetition.

      "Methods. I don't think it's been clearly stated in the main text what the functional unit is for the LCA study (or that FU is an abbreviation of functional unit). Please make sure that the FU is clearly stated in the main text as well as in the appendix so that the reader can properly interpret the results in the main paper. The main text also does not state which impacts are being assessed. Please include this information in the main paper as well as in the appendix (at a minimum please refer to the relevant section of the appendix)."

      The FU and LCIA methodology used are now included in the main text and with the Appendix containing the details, all calculations and results.

      "Conclusions. It would be good to include the results of the LCA in the conclusions section, as the paper is concerned with environmental impacts. It would also be useful to relate the conclusions more strongly to the title and the aims of the paper - or to amend the title and aims of the paper? As it stands, there is a disconnect between the paper title and stated aims, and the conclusions."

      We agree we have included the LCA results in a new combined Discussion and Conclusions section.

      "Appendix. The appendix outlining the LCA work is thorough, well written and clearly presented. However, please make sure that the assumptions used in the analysis match the text in the main paper; there is, for example, some confusion over the washing temperature as different values are given in the conclusions section of the main paper and in the appendix."

      The  Appendix contains details which  clarify the temperature used.

      2020-11-10 16:24 UTC
      +1

      The paper is much improved on the previous version.  The flow of the paper is much better and the content more cohesive.  I just have a few minor suggestions:

      In the abstract, it is noted that 124,000 tonnes of waste would be created and 66,000 tonnes would be unrecyclable contaminated plastic waste.  Is the remainder recyclable uncontaminated waste?  Please can you explain what this portion is composed of.

      The text in the section on European Standards refers to ‘community face masks’ and ‘Community Face Coverings’.  Table 1 refers to ‘Community Masks’.  Are these the same thing?  Could you please clarify?  It would also be useful to explain what is meant by community mask.

      The footnote in Table 1 isn’t clear, particularly from ‘but these masks…’ onwards.  Please rephrase.

      What are the ‘wash bags’ referred to in the section on Materials and their Filtration Efficiency?

      In the Cost Comparison Section under Disposal, the text refers to the weight of a single-use mask.  Strictly speaking, this is mass.

      Is there a better way to present the information in Figure 3?  The washing and disposal categories are difficult to make out on the graph.

      Could you please check the data in Figure 4?  The Republic of Ireland is highlighted in yellow, but I don’t think this is the case.  It’s also not clear what is meant by ‘yellow indicates countries where mandatory mask use is imposed on part of the country only but their use is recommended by government’.  Do you mean that their use country-wide is recommended but not mandated by government?

      There is a sentence in the Discussion and Conclusions section that states that ‘anecdotal evidence in the UK suggests that very few people wear their reusable masks every day’.  It’s not clear what this sentence is meant to tell us and I suggest deleting it.  People mightn’t wear their reusable mask every day for a variety of reasons, like not going anywhere that requires mask use or wearing a disposable mask instead.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not following the guidelines.

      Further on in the discussion, the text states that ‘governments may consider stockpiling masks…’.  Is this referring to single-use masks?  In the last paragraph, the text uses the phrase ‘capacity capable’ – is this the correct phrase?

      There are a few minor grammatical errors throughout the paper.  Please give the paper one final proof-read.

      2021-01-19 11:44 UTC

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