COVID Pandemic brings along a new wave of Plastic Pollution

Diya Chaudhuri

7th September, 2020

Discarded masks- the new litter (Source: Diya Chaudhuri)

The COVID pandemic has resulted in a remarkable reduction in air pollution worldwide. However, it has also caused a whole new wave of plastic pollution. A study released by the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology discovered that individuals around the world are using and discarding an estimated amount of 12.9 thousand crore disposable masks and 6.5 thousand disposable gloves every month. Out of the given figures, approximately 75 per cent eventually ends up in landfills or washes down to water bodies.

The single-use masks are made of polypropylene, a type of plastic while the gloves are made of rubber or latex all of which are non-biodegradable. The dumping of these single-use plastic products is pushing us 10 steps back from all the progress that we made against single-use plastic in the last decade.

Gary Stokes, the co-founder of marine conservation group Oceans Asia, referred to an example of the beach of Soko Islands in an interview with Reuters. The island is an isolated and uninhabited place in Hong Kong where he was alarmed to find over 70 discarded masks in just a 100 metre stretch of the beach. Many conservation groups are now organising beach cleanup drives to tackle this issue.

Gary Stokes holding up discarded masks in Soko Island, Hong Kong (Source: Yoyo Chow for Reuters)

The discarded PPE not only cause environmental pollution but are also dangerous as they carry high risks of spreading the infection to other people. “When people do that, when they just throw those on the ground, they are not thinking about everyone else. They’re wearing those protective measures to keep themselves safe, but then they throw them on the ground and put other people at risk,” said Klein, the Director of Personal Health at the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department in an interview with The Traverse City Record-Eagle. He encouraged people to use reusable masks and throw single-use masks in the trash cans.

Seagull caught in the strings of a discarded face mask (Source: RSPCA)

Another big issue budding from the incorrect disposal of these masks is that the birds and animals try to eat those. The birds and animals confuse it with food or get caught up and strangle themselves in the strings of these masks. A Seagull was caught in a PPE face mask for almost a week in Chelmsford. It was eventually taken to the South Essex Wildlife hospital where the staff cut the mask off. However, there are many more animals being affected in similar ways every day. People are advised to cut off the strings of the masks before discarding it to avoid these problems. While these PPE keep us safe from the COVID, it’s also our responsibility to ensure its proper disposal.

(Sources: BBC News, CNN, The Guardian, Record Eagle, UN News, Greenbiz, Reuters)

Edited by Swikruti Kar

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