Disposable Masks the New Environmental Threat

A blue disposable mask discarded on a beach lodged between driftwood. Image by CeeGrrn

Is it just me or have you also noticed a new type of litter? This eyesore is on sidewalks, nature trails, parking lots and beaches. Not only is it carelessly tossed away, but it poses a serious safety issue and harms our environment. It’s a blue tumbleweed, a.k.a. the disposable mask.

Single-use masks may look and feel like paper or cotton but are made from synthetic non-biodegradable materials, known as polypropylene, which means it’s part of the plastic family. Plastics take decades to hundreds of years to break down in oceans and up to 1,000 years in landfills. 

Over time, plastic waste becomes microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic that pollute the environment), which poses a threat for people, animals, plants and ocean life. In a recent article by National Geographic, “You eat thousands of plastic bits every yeara study discovered, microplastics in the excrement of eight individuals. Another study in the same article, states humans consume between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year. Scientists continue to explore the effect of microplastics in humans.

Discarded mask on the shoreline

Disposable masks not only pollute our cities but pose serious threats to marine life. How do they get to our rivers and oceans?

The masks are recklessly dumped or accidentally dropped on streets, then the rains fall and masks flow into the city drainage systems or it’s blown like kites into waterways and oceans. Think of the disposable masks as small rectangular plastic bags that either choke or cause critical digestive issues in ocean life. 

If this doesn’t make you rethink proper disposal of masks, the following will: 

According to the Lancet medical journal, the University of Hong Kong ran tests to determine the stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. Results showed that infectious levels of the virus were found on the disposable mask up to the seventh day. Imagine that infected mask dumped on the sidewalk, your dog sniffs that infected mask on a walk, and licks your face soon after. Scary, isn’t it!

There’s a simple solution, throw the single-use masks into the trash! Even better if you have access to a PPE disposal bin use that because masks fall under medical waste and do not head to landfills. And here’s an even better solution, purchase reusable masks or make your own.

Disposable masks have become the new plastic bottle with an added safety risk. Let’s do all we can to keep ourselves and our environment safe and healthy, encourage everyone to toss their single-use masks in a bin or PPE disposal bin.

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