Environmental Impact of Disposable Masks
Birth of an environmental hazard
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic and till now it has impacted each and every person across the globe. This historic outbreak shall bring about many changes in the social lives of people. It is natural for every person to do everything possible to protect themselves from this virus. There are many guidelines being issued by governments of every country for citizens to safeguard themselves. One of the most prominent precautions is using face masks and respirators.
Given that face masks are supposed to be worn for no longer than one day, their disposal is leading to a massive heap of waste in the environment. When suddenly almost the entire population of maximum countries starts wearing one to two masks per day, one can imagine the trash amount generation. While we fight against this invisible enemy geared up with masks, respirators, disinfectants, sanitizers, and much other medical equipment we must also pay attention to the birth of a dangerous environmental problem that will last longer than the virus.
With the quick escalation of the COVID-19 cases all across the globe, waste disposal is the next biggest problem awaiting. Already, on Hong Kong’s small and uninhabited Soko Islands an environmental NGO Oceans Asia counted 70 discarded masks on a 100m stretch of a beach. A week later, another 30 masks were discovered there. On other beaches around Hong Kong plastic pollution from face masks has reached a similar level.
Why masks can't be disposed of or recycled?
Most of these masks contain or are made of polypropylene, which does not break down quickly. Marine plastic pollution is a serious problem. It is estimated that every year, over eight million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans. This plastic does not disappear but rather slowly breaks down into micro-plastic, which enters food chains, with devastating effects.
These masks cannot be recycled as well. The reason is that the used face masks may carry germs involving the coronavirus, they shouldn't be randomly discarded as waste. Since the virus can survive for one or two days in humid conditions, the used masks may become a new source of infection. If the waste masks are tossed in a confined space such as an elevator, they may contaminate the environment, posing a potential threat to people within it. Also face masks used by the general public could be a source of infection for sanitation workers if not properly discarded.
Is there a way to dispose?
According to the WHO’s health guidelines, soiled tissues and used face masks must be thrown only into lidded litter bins, while any medical gear used by affected patients and hospital staff must be sterilized and burnt at high temperatures in dedicated incinerators. It is stated that only state-of-the-art incinerators operating at 850-1100° C, with special gas-cleaning equipment, can burn these items in accordance with international emission standards.
However, considering the amount of trash being generated in such short span of time, the incinerating facilities in different regions are unable to cope up.
Reference links: disposable masks create serious environmental problem
Disposable masks are the new pollution problem of 2020
Disposable face masks may take as long as 450 years to break down. Discarded masks are hazards for wild animals with environmental groups around the world reporting animals injured or killed after being caught in the straps.
Photos of disposable mask pollution poses risk for birds and fish: photos of disposable mask pollution poses risk for birds and fish
Is there a sustainable alternative?
The use of biodegradable material for personal protective equipment will be the best solution! We are manufacturing biodegradable PPE for healthcare!
Is there a sustainable alternative?
Governments subsidize what they consider to be “green” products or technologies in order to save the environment.
Electric Mobile, recycling subsides ethanol fuels, and carbon credits
We developed a unique biodegradable fabric without environmental and waste issues - we named it as “Greenulose” of which we have used various vegetables and herbs fibers such as cassava; corn; potato; soya etc.
“Greenulose” can be used as the primary fabric suitable for PPE applications.
The “Greenulose” material is fully biodegradable and degrades within 900 days and disperses as a gas (no
nano-particles). Our proprietary manufacturing process is unique in the world.
We have developed a biodegradable medical mask that meet EU/EN biodegradable standards!
And we are going to develop eco-friendly PPE products in the healthcare segment utilizing our proprietary biodegradable fabric.