My name is Felix Bookhart-Tsai, and I am currently a senior at American International School in Hong Kong. We all know how COVID-19 has drastically changed life for everyone around the world. From social distancing to online work and education, the pandemic had countless consequences that forced us to adapt. As a result, in many countries wearing disposable face masks when in public settings has become the norm.
Despite the numerous benefits that come from using face masks, two major social and environmental issues need to be addressed. For one, a sizable amount of face masks are polluting the ocean. In fact, according to a 2020 study led by OceansAsia, roughly 1.56 billion face masks were predicted to end up in the sea (Bondaroff, 2020). Disposable face masks are made with a type of plastic called polypropylene. When masks are left in the ocean, they break into minuscule pieces called microplastics, which can last for hundreds of years (Bondaroff). The second problem that has arisen from the pandemic is that it takes a toll on lower-income families in many parts of the world, who are now required to purchase masks on top of their other expenses. Consequentially, individuals may resort to reusing disposable masks, which may pose a risk to others. While cloth masks are accepted in some places, surgical masks are much safer and more reliable than cloth masks. This is because the majority of surgical masks (regardless of the brand) are just as effective in preventing the spread of particles and bacteria. In contrast, cloth masks can vastly differ in quality (Fung, 2021).
In light of these observations, SolarMask was created to minimize face mask pollution while offering lower-income households a cost-effective solution to reuse disposable face masks safely. After extensive research and experimentation, I discovered that through the use of solar ovens, disposable masks could be effectively sterilized of bacteria, making them suitable for further usage.