Due to the coronavirus, disposable masks have become the best-selling product in 2020. Until now, the use of masks was almost exclusively for healthcare professionals. Except for Asia, the rest of the world was oblivious to them.
However, the new normal has made its use mandatory to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A measure that, while necessary, is also causing serious consequences on the environment.
Disposable masks are polluting the planet and putting important measures such as the law against single-use plastics at risk. To give us an idea of the potential damage they pose, WWF published a report with alarming figures:
“If only 1% of the masks were disposed of incorrectly and dispersed in nature, this would lead to up to 10 million masks per month polluting the environment,” according to estimates collected by the organization.
In this article, we explain why disposable masks are polluting the planet. If you also want to contribute your grain of sand, read until the end.
129 billion disposable masks threaten the oceans every month.
Did you know that only in the city of Wuhan, in China, the volume of medical waste was five time its usual figure? It reached 240 tons a day, according to the South China Morning Post.
In Spain, the data are not encouraging for the environment either. In our country, more than 600 million surgical masks have been purchased, as reported by Greenpeace. In short, “more than 1,300 tons of disposable plastic materials,” they add.
To raise awareness, at the end of July the environmental organization set off all the alarms. On their website, they echoed a study published by Environmental Science & Technology: “Every month around 129,000 million disposable masks and 65,000 million gloves are being used in the world.”
Undoubtedly, an inordinate amount of waste that landfills and incinerators can hardly cope with. What does this mean? That an important percentage runs the risk of ending up at the bottom of the oceans. A fact that is already happening.
As proof of this, in WWF they published a video under the campaign “Pick up your glove for a nature without plastics”. In it, you can see images of disposable masks and gloves floating on the seabed.
Is it the end of the law against single-use plastic?
Last year 2019, the European Parliament approved one of the most anticipated laws: the ban on single-use plastics. The measure that would mainly affect cotton sticks, cutlery, and straws, represented an important advance.
The United Nations estimates that 13 million tons of plastic are dumped into the sea each year and that half of the plastic produced globally is for single-use items.
However, this regulation did not include disposable masks and medical gloves as they are essential products for the protection of health workers. Oblivious to the fact that, a year later, they would invade every corner of the planet.
Although society seemed to be increasingly aware of zero waste, the coronavirus has turned everything upside down.
Will this be a step back in reducing plastic? It does not have to, there are many sustainable alternatives.
“It is true that for hygiene and health reasons it is not feasible to prohibit the use of single-use plastics while the health emergency lasts. But it is important to avoid that, once the crisis is resolved, there is a greater environmental problem. We must not forget that the problem of plastic pollution will still be present”, explains Ethel Eljarrat, researcher at the Department of Environmental Chemistry at the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA – CSIC), in an article on this topic published in The Conversation.
Disposable masks to the grey container, never to the ground
Did you know that a common hygienic mask, abandoned in a natural environment, can take between 300 and 400 years to degrade?
It is a message that has been launched jointly by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, and Consumption. The campaign “Unforgettable memories. The mask is for you, not for nature”, seeks to sensitize citizens about the misuse of disposable masks.
They also remember that disposable masks are not biodegradable and cannot be thrown in the yellow container. In order to get rid of them, we must throw them into the grey container inside several well-closed bags.
And it is that, a bad management of this waste supposes a serious danger for the health. The virus can remain latent and active for up to 3 days in this type of material, they recall.
Is it possible to reverse the damage of disposable masks?
Yes, at Rewinder we carry out a project with which we have already avoided the waste of almost 15 million disposable masks. How did we do it?
Thanks to our reusable masks: Rewinder Viroblock and Rewinder 40, are you joining the revolution?