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

    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.
    Competing interests:

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

    - As the UK government defines its lockdown exit strategy, the mandatory wearing of masks in public is likely to be considered. - The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not currently recommend the use of masks by general populations as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, although a growing number of countries have been adopting this precautionary measure. - The NHS states that there needs to be clear evidence that wearing masks will deliver significant benefits to take the UK out of lockdown, if it is to jeopardise mask supply. - There is 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. - Most masks available for sale are made from layers of plastics and are designed to be single-use. If every person in the UK used one single-use mask each day for a year, that would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste and create ten times more climate change impact than using reusable masks. - In a hospital environment, single-use protective wear such as masks and gloves are contaminated items, and there are systems in place for their safe disposal, which involve segregation and incineration. - No such segregated system exists for the general public, and a policy that makes wearing face masks mandatory will result in thousands of tonnes of contaminated waste deposited in the street and in the household waste. - Evidence suggests that reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream. - An extensive public health campaign with clear instructions about how to wear, remove, and wash reusable masks will be needed if this is to become part of the UK governments exit strategy.

      Review information


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      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.


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