The face mask has become an everyday accessory and everyone made the adjustment to wear one in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The very masks that help keep people safe, however, threaten wildlife and the environment. Masks line beaches, rivers, supermarket parking lots, parks, sidewalks, and more, endangering the health of animals that ingest them or get entangled in them.
According to environmental researchers, roughly 200 billion disposable face masks and plastic gloves made their way into the environment since the start of the coronavirus. Now, add all of that disposable waste to the pre-existing plastic that enters our oceans and landfills on a daily basis. Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre, a French nonprofit organization that cleans up beaches and oceans, posted a video of a beach littered with masks and gloves. The caption of the video read, “Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.”
Disposable Mask Waste Is Global:
OceansAsia, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit, found about 70 disposable masks across 100 meters of beach in the uninhabited Soko Islands. Trash Free Seas in the United States said that medical waste has threatened oceans and waterways for years. The continued use of disposable, single-use masks and gloves piles on top of the pre-existing plastic waste in our oceans.
The Problem With Disposing Of Disposable Masks:
Various photos that are circulating the web display masks around the legs of seagulls or floating in the water amongst marine life. If dolphins, turtles, or other mammals ingest these disposable masks, they can suffer from bowel obstructions or they can choke on the them. The elastic straps from the masks can easily entangle various wildlife. When the disposable masks make their way into our waterways, they release hazardous chemicals that make the ocean more acidic. Disposable masks are also comprised of polypropylene, a plastic that doesn’t break down easily and leaches toxic chemicals into the environment during decomposition.
How To Properly Dispose Of Your Disposable Mask:
First off, don’t just throw your disposable mask wherever you want when you’re done wearing it. When you throw it away, it’s imperative that you cut the elastic straps so that wildlife does not get caught in them. If you’re a health care worker and wear disposable masks, you may not be able to cut the straps after each use. Instead, rip the mask in half prior to throwing it away. And if you can’t cut the straps or tear the mask in half, make sure that you dispose of it properly so that animals cannot reach it.
Start Wearing Reusable Masks:
Since masks are required for the unforeseeable future, invest in some quality reusable masks, or make your own masks from old fabric. There are many online tutorials that explain how to make masks, even if you don’t have a sewing machine. Additionally, wearing reusable masks decreases plastic waste. Plus, you get to show off a little personality by picking patterned fabric, or you can draw/paint on your masks to show your creative side. Click here to read about the most effective fabrics and masks to keep yourself protected from COVID-19. Click here to learn how to make your own masks.
If we all do our part, we can cut down on plastic waste while simultaneously keeping ourselves safe.