Proper mask disposal is important
Do your part to keep masks out of our oceans
Millions of masks are being thrown away and environmentalists are sounding the alarm about where they end up.
There’s no question that masks are a critical part for keeping us healthy these days. Most cities have mandated the wearing of masks in public as well having our children wear masks while at school. In 2020, we used an estimated 52 billion face masks, and the United Nations has forecasted the demand for surgical masks alone could reach 2.4 billion easily.
Our single-use face masks are made up of several layers of meltblown plastics that are difficult to recycle. Recycling is also not possible due to the risk of infection or contamination. But too many masks are ending up in our oceans, especially when they are littered instead of being disposed of properly.
A study by the University College London Plastic Waste Innovation Hub estimated that one person using one single-use mask per day creates 1,000 tons of contaminated waste and 1,137 tons of plastic packaging.
Proper mask disposal is something we should all be concerned with. The marine conservation organization OceansAsia estimated there was 1.56 billion face masks that ended up on our oceans.
Their report Masks on the Beach: The Impact of COVID-19 on Marine Plastic Pollution used the 2020 global production estimate and used a conservative rate of 3%, and the average weight of 3 to 4 grams for a single-use polypropylene surgical face mask to arrive at their estimate. This is an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of marine plastic pollution being added to our oceans already struggling with plastic pollution.
Along with waterlogged masks there are also gloves, hand sanitizer bottles and other coronavirus washing up on our beaches.
Long life for masks
Masks will take as long as 450 years to break down, slowly turning into microplastics while negatively impacting marine wildlife and ecosystems.
We’ve watched the video of veterinarians treating the seagull entangled in PPE and watched they gently cut away the masks that were cutting off its circulation. Other marine animals have not been so lucky. Dolphins, turtles and other marine animals can mistake masks for food and choke them or suffer from fatal bowel obstructions.
Divers from the French non-profit, Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea) found masks and gloves floating in Mediterranean as well as an ocean floor littered with PPE and hand sanitizer bottles.
Be sure to dispose of your single-use face mask properly. Never throw it on the ground and make sure it's weighted down properly if throw it away in an outdoor trash so the wind can’t blow it away.
The ideal thing to do is cut the ear loops on half with a pair of scissors so there is less chance of any animal getting tangled up in it. After disinfecting the mask, you can also cut it down the center into two parts after disinfecting it. Just those little steps can go a long way to helping.
Stay safe. Wash your hands and put on a mask.