(NaturalHealth365) Remember when there was a worldwide call-to-action to stop using plastic straws lest we seriously harm the environment? Restaurants stopped providing them to customers, companies, and entrepreneurs making reusable and sustainable straws made millions, and environmental awareness campaigns to create “strawless oceans” skyrocketed.
Sadly, it seems possible that whatever progress was made for this environmental cause may have been completely wiped out thanks to the insane pollution by the 2020s’ version of the plastic straw problem – disposable face masks.
“The next plastic problem:” Scientists warn of dire consequences on environment of rampant face mask use
According to the organization Strawless Ocean, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish in 2050. And even before COVID-19, more than 300 million tons of plastics were being produced annually, most of which ends up in the environment as pollution waste.
According to several studies, this sad state of pollution is being accelerated by the widespread use of face masks during the current pandemic. In fact, a new paper published in Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering cites research that estimates that three million face masks are throw in the trash every minute across the globe – that’s equivalent to about 129 billion face masks per month.
Where do all these face masks go? Among other places, straight into our oceans.
“With increasing reports on inappropriate disposal of masks,” the authors of the newly printed paper warn, “it is urgent to recognize this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem.”
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This is what happens when face masks end up in the environment
In their paper, the team of researchers, who hail from both Princeton and the University of Southern Denmark, note that disposable face masks are not biodegradable and contain minuscule plastic fibers, microplastics, and nanonplastics. Once these masks are thrown away and end up in the environment, masks are exposed to solar radiation and heat and start to break down to some degree. However, the degradation of plastics within the masks is slow to virtually non-existent – causing them to accumulate in our soil and water.
And while there’s not enough data about the true impact of these masks on the environment yet, the researchers strongly suspect that the rampant use of disposable face masks are causing harmful biological and chemical substances to spread and pose health hazards to animals, humans, and the ecosystem.
The thing is, nobody is talking about how to throw these face masks away (unlike the case for plastic water bottles and single-use plastic bags). So, what can people do? Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind and help reduce your impact:
- Contact your elected representatives to raise awareness about the need for standard guidelines or protocols on how to handle mask waste
- Encourage your local officials to establish “mask-only” trash cans
- If you are using face masks, consider using a reusable cloth one (although assuming they actually do help slow the spread of COVID-19, know that cloth masks are less effective than surgical face masks or N95 respirators, especially when worn, don, or doffed incorrectly)
- Support inventors who are looking into the development of biodegradable disposal masks
Bottom line: no matter what side you take on the issue of wearing a face mask … the pollution problem is one we all must try to address in the best way possible. Any thoughts? (post your comments below)
Sources for this article include: