Masks have become the new normal since the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale of disposable masks is touching the sky, and UNCTAD estimated sales to jump to $166 billion in 2021. But the use of disposable masks is causing havoc in the oceans, increasing the burden on the ecological system.
Most of the Earth is currently floating in discarded plastic, which takes nearly 450 years to break down and dissolve in water. When it is breaking down, the microplastic particles dissolving in the water gulped by sea species are becoming a threat to their lives.
Around 8 million tonnes of plastic are thrown in the oceans every year, and with the pandemic, the number is hiking up tremendously. Sixty-five billion gloves are used every month worldwide.
Another research provided that Asia throws almost 1.8 billion masks every day, the highest among all the continents. That’s why it is of foremost concern to take actions to halt the use of plastic to protect the ocean ecosystem.
Developing countries of Asia and Africa are most affected by plastic pollution, where waste management system is non-efficient to negligible. Oceans Asia, a marine life conservation organization, found heaps of masks discarded on the Soko Islands in Hong Kong during their plastic pollution research.
Laurent Lombard, a member of French clean-up charity Operation Mer Propre, posted on Facebook about the rapid hoist in plastic pollution, said, “There risks being more masks than jellyfish.”
We might be able to fight COVID-19 through vaccines, but this sudden increase in plastic pollution is ringing alarming bells on environmental health. The excessive use of masks, gloves and other protective measures from coronavirus needs immediate action.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released various facts numbers on how careless medical waste disposal is harming the environment and public health. The open burning masks is releasing dangerous toxins leading to the secondary transmission of diseases.
What can we do?
- Instead of using disposable masks every time, use cloth masks, which can be reused after washing.
- Dispose of the PPE kits, gloves, etc., with care and heed. Please don’t throw them haphazardly anywhere.
Most of the items in our surroundings are made up of plastic, from foil wrappers, straws to water bottles, polythenes, etc. The convenience plastic brings with it makes it highly impossible to replace.
But the need to opt for sustainable goods is critical if we want to save wildlife, birds, marine organisms and restore the balance of our ecological system.
UNCTAD’s director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, said, “Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak.” Hence, we need to wake up before it is too late and find new ways to renew and clean up the oceans and surroundings.