A downtrodden face mask Photograph:( AFP )
An environmental group claims that over 1.5 billion disposable face masks will end up in the world’s oceans this year
The coronavirus pandemic has flipped what qualifies as normal. Masks have become the new necessity, along with a hand sanitiser - which are touted as the primary ways to stop the chain of infection. But disposable masks remain an environmental hazard. And now, an environmental group claims that over 1.5 billion disposable face masks will end up in the world’s oceans this year.
This, in turn, will contribute to aquatic pollution and endanger marine life, a report by Hong Kong-based OceansAsia said.
Citing another report for market research, OceansAsia claimed that over 52 billion masks were made this year to meet the demand triggered by COVID-19 pandemic. A ‘’conservative’’ calculation posits that at least 3 per cent of those masks will end up in the ocean.
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“Single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection,” the report claims.
It adds that masks end up in oceans when they are disposed of inadequately, and when waste management systems are ill-equipped to deal with mask pollution.
“These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste”, the report added.
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Each mask weighs three to four grams on average. Based on this figure, at least 6,800+ tonnes of pollution could hit the oceans. The report estimates that it will take 450 years to “break down” in the ocean.
Microplastic and nano-plastic particles pose a threat to the environment, with many aquatic animals swallowing them by error. In addition, loops that are attached to masks could pose an entanglement risk for animals.
Many animals are killed by masks regularly, with the report referring go many instances whereby fish were found tangled in loops of disposable masks. Earlier, a penguin who was found dead on a beach in Brazil found a mask in its stomach.
In this regard, the report recommends wearing reusable, washable cloth masks to avoid such pollution.
Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been advising people to cut off the loops of masks before discarding them.