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W. Aaron Vandiver is a writer, attorney, and wildlife conservationist. He is the author of the novel Under a Poacher’s Moon, released on February 1, 2022.

An estimated 1.6 billion disposable masks made their way into the oceans in 2020 — that’s more than 4 million per day. By the end of 2021, the world had generated about 8 million tons of COVID-related plastic waste, much of it surgical and N95 masks, with some 26,000 tons ending up in the sea.

I live in the Colorado Rockies, where we live and breathe environmentalism. I hear the occasional grumble about the profusion of plastic takeout containers and, more recently, the excessive packaging of home COVID tests. But I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one thinking about the plastic litter that masks create. I recently mentioned this to an environmentally minded acquaintance who responded in surprise, “They’re made out of plastic?!”

This seems true of many green organizations as well: Most aren’t grappling with the reality that yes, most masks are plastic, or they are reticent to speak too loudly about the pr... Read more

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