Adopting disposable face masks as part of our fight against COVID-19 has created a new and dangerous problem of face mask pollution. Almost all varieties of single-use face masks contain polypropylene plastics, and they are showing up on streets, beaches, parks, and bodies of water. When this plastic starts to break down, it becomes smaller pieces that can take 450 years to decompose, and the detrimental effect is already being seen in the oceans of the world.
How Bad is it?
Disposable face masks are contributing to massive pollution in the same way as plastic bottles and containers. While people must wear face masks as part of our battle against COVID-19, the bad behavior associated with incorrect disposal has escalated the pollution to an astounding degree. According to Science Daily, studies show that around 129 billion face masks are being used each month worldwide, and most are disposable that are made with plastic microfibers. The concern is so great that experts say that it goes beyond the problems involving plastic bottles and bags. Research done by the nonprofit marine conservation advocacy organization, OceansAsia estimated that nearing 1.5 billion face masks showed up in the world’s oceans in 2020 alone. This means that disposable masks have caused an additional 5,160-6,880 tons of marine plastic pollution.
Lack of Guidelines for Disposable Face Masks
While the medical and science professionals want to continue to encourage people to wear face masks as part of the defense against COVID-19, the problem is that there haven’t been any guidelines or instructions on how to dispose of them so that they don’t contribute to an ecological disaster. Disposal face masks used in the hospital environment are treated like all other PPE (personal protection equipment) and thrown into standard trash/waste. Unlike regular plastic items, there aren’t any standards set for recycling, and they end up in landfills. In addition, these disposable face masks can buildup and even release harmful biological substances and chemicals, pathogenic microorganisms, and heavy metals. Each of these individual problems can have adverse effects on people and the environment, however, combined, they present huge dangers.
Actions Everyone Can Take
The first priority should be to replace disposable masks with reusable masks such as ViroMasks. The high tech design of ViroMasks includes the use of hypoallergenic and recycled materials. The material is treated with an anti-microbial technology that is effective against viruses and bacteria. Comfortable and easy to wear, ViroMasks are available for both adults and children.