Face masks are now part of the new normal around the world amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They are the first line of defence and their importance in public spaces cannot be overstated. Till countries around the world can successfully reach their vaccination goals, face masks will prevail.
While they save us from infection, masks have emerged as a major pollutant. Improper disposal of masks has taken them to rivers and seas like every other pollutant.
Face masks and environmental pollution
A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicates that over 7,200 tonnes of medical waste are being produced every day since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disposable face masks are the majority of this waste and they end up in seas and oceans, contaminating the environment.
Science Daily reported “recent studies estimate that we use an astounding 129 billion face masks globally every month -- that is three million a minute. Most of them are disposable face masks made from plastic microfibers.”
Researchers warn that many of these masks end up as toxic micro and nano plastic or act as carriers for other toxins in the environment. Since disposable masks are made of plastic they are not biodegradable but break down into smaller fragments.
According to a report by Environmental Advances, a face mask is capable of releasing up to 173,000 plastic microfibers into the seas every day.
There are no any fixed guidelines for disposing of masks safely but by adopting a few green solutions, we can ensure that these face masks do not become the next plastic problem for a planet already grappling with global warming and climate change.
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the approaches that incorporate reusable aspects stand to have not only the greatest cost savings, but also a significant reduction in waste,” says Giovanni Traverso, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the senior author of the MIT study.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST