BEMIDJI, Minn. We see them everywhere, lying on the ground, full of mud and dirt, people stepping on them without noticing. If you are like me you probably see them more now than soda cans or plastic bottles.

They are the single-use blue surgical masks we see littered everywhere now: On sidewalks, in parking lots and ditches.

This pandemic has been a burden in so many ways, but now it is taking its toll on the planet. In most places around the country, masks are mandatory and seeing them on peoples' faces has become a casual new norm. But seeing them littered all over the ground should not be the part of that norm.

Over the past few months, when I am walking into the grocery store, I have been able to spot at least two of the single-use masks lying in the parking lot or in the entryway doors. And when I go for a walk around town I sometimes see multiple masks within feet of each other.

Hannah Lavigne
Hannah Lavigne

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According to news.un.org, about 75% of these used masks will end up littered on the ground, in landfills or in the oceans. Wastefreeoceans.org wrote about how single use plastics are made of polypropylene, which is part of the plastic family. This results in it taking up to 450 years for things such as single-use masks to degrade.

Are there ways that we can slow down the use of products like these? The short answer is yes. A simple solution is that if more people bought cloth masks, we would see a substantial decrease in single-use masks. They are not hard to find, people can buy them from just about anywhere these days. A great place to start are local small businesses or from that "one mom we all know who makes a bunch of them," as this also helps the local economy by supporting those in your community.

Single-use masks are good for just that: a one-time use. After that it is useless and recommended that it should be thrown away. It even says that on the box. However, if you use cloth masks, they can be washed and worn over and over. This also saves you a little cash in the meantime.

It's simple really: Help keep the earth a little more clean and help out your community. Ditch the single-use masks and buy a cloth mask. Today.

Hannah LaVigne is a multimedia journalist for our sister publication, the Bemidji Pioneer. She can be reached at hlavigne@bemidjipioneer.com.