Melanie Haynes, who is a freelance writer living in Denmark, gives her perspective on the reusable vs. Disposable face mask debate, and highlights how attitudes differ from country to country.
During the February school half-term holiday, my son and I travelled across the bridge from Copenhagen to Sweden for a day out. At Copenhagen Airport, where we catch the train to Sweden, we bought our breakfast in a 7-11 convenience store. On the counter was a display of disposable face masks. I laughed with the assistant about people buying masks to protect themselves against something that did not exist in our little country. Four weeks later, after the return of travellers from ski resorts in the Corona hit Italy, we started to see cases of COVID 19 in Denmark. By March 10th, our Prime Minister had closed schools and put the country into lockdown, far sooner than many other countries in Europe, including the UK.
Luckily our schools were reopened after the Easter break and life started to return to normal as the Government guided the population through a series of well-planned phases to reopen Denmark. A recent survey of public approval rating of governments’ management of the Coronavirus crisis put Denmark at the top. 95% of people surveyed in Denmark felt that the Government has done a good job in handling the crisis compared to 46% in the UK.
A lot of this comes down to the traditionally high level of trust Danes have in their Government. In Denmark, we have seen a total of 627 deaths due to COVID 19 to date. At the time of writing in Denmark, we are currently recording under 200 cases a day. With a robust testing programme, this shows the virus is under control, although there are some localised outbreaks, especially as the all-important hospitalisations currently stands at 27. The R rate is under 1.
So great job all round for Denmark? I would agree with this, but there is an area where Danes can undoubtedly do better. I would love to see the Government taking a positive lead with this as they have done throughout the pandemic. That is the issue of disposable face masks. As a committed environmentalist, the thought of adding to plastic pollution was never an option for me.
It has been just a couple of weeks since the Government mandated that face masks should be worn on all public transport including taxis. It is unclear how long this will be required, but it is likely to be until October at the earliest. Regarding doing what the Government is asking, there is almost 100% compliance with the rules.
Some places are selling washable face masks in Denmark, and it is easy to order online from Germany or the UK. Yet, I see only a fraction of travellers wearing washable masks.
The public service adverts on public transport all show people, including the health minister, using disposable masks. The Government released over 9 million medical masks from the national stockpile to be sold in supermarkets and pharmacies. So, there is a clear message that these are the preferred protection.
Movia, the public transport provider, is even handing out free disposable masks. Whilst this is a positive initiative to ensure passengers’ and drivers’ safety, it reinforces the idea that these are the preferred option. However, in the official guidance, they have also recommended washable masks and visors. In France, when face masks were made mandatory earlier in the summer, every household was sent a washable mask for every member of that household.
Denmark has a worldwide reputation of being a leading country in sustainability, in fact, it is number one in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index. Generally, Danes are very environmentally conscious, so it is odd that they are so willingly embracing single-use plastic face masks. They are often not even responsibly disposing of the used masks. Every morning on my way through my local Metro station after commuter time, I see at least 10 masks scattered around the litter bin. Around not in!
In researching this article, I asked a few people in my community why they chose to use washable masks. The main reason people in my small survey are choosing washable masks is due to comfort compared to the disposable ones. They were confident they were just as well protected. They also wanted to look good, and quite frankly, who can blame them!
And at the same time, they also cited the impact so many single-use masks will have on the environment. The issue of cost also came up, a pack of five disposable masks currently costs the equivalent of £3. A conservative estimate says that in a week a single person will spend at least £6 on something they throw away after one use. A cloth mask from an online retailer can cost as little as £4.50 and can be washed around 30 – 50 times.
There are plenty of options for washable face masks on the market here in Denmark. I see multiple adverts every day in my Instagram feed for these, so they are definitely available. They are just not as obviously available as disposable ones as you tend to have to order them online. With a sense of optimism, I hope that as time goes on and the requirement to wear masks continues, we will see more availability of cloth masks in more mainstream shops and retailers. Until then, I urge people to seek the more sustainable option out, not only to reduce the pressure on the environment but also on your own pocket.
At Bags of Ethics we advocate sustainable living, which includes the use of reusable face masks. Our designer face coverings have been made in partnership with The British Fashion Council and 6 British fashion deisgners, and can be reused over 50+ times. They are made from sustainable organic cotton, which is compostable whilst also being breathable and protective. We ship worldwide and therefore wherever you are, you too can stay safe during the pandemic whilst protecting the planet. To shop our masks, visit https://bagsofethics.org/. We are offering Melanie’s readers an exclusive discount that gives them free delivery on all mask orders. Use MELANIEDELIVERS for free delivery internationally, valid until midmight on 20th September.
Melanie Haynes is a freelance writer and content creator based in Copenhagen. She shares stories on her blog and YouTube channel about life in Denmark with an emphasis on sustainable living. You can find her work here: