Face masks are a ‘ticking plastic bomb’ for the environment

Three million face masks are discarded every minute as a result of mass adoption during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts warn it could soon lead to an environmental disaster.

Facial coatings are worn by the majority of individuals around the world to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

However, they pose a greater risk to the environment than transport bags due to their ubiquity and the fact that there is no way to safely dispose of and recycle them.

In an article published by the University of Southern Denmark, experts call the huge amount of face masks worn and discarded a ‘ticking clock bomb’.

They add that rubbing causes masks to break into dangerous microfibers and they can also carry harmful chemicals into the environment.

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Three million face masks are discarded every minute as a result of mass adoption during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts warn it could soon cause an environmental disaster.

Three million face masks are discarded every minute as a result of mass adoption during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts warn it could soon cause an environmental disaster.

Facial coatings are worn by the majority of individuals around the world to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Facial coatings are worn by the majority of individuals around the world to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Four ways to reduce mask contamination

  1. Set up only mask bins to collect and dispose of
  2. Consider standardization, guidelines, and strict implementation of waste management for mask waste
  3. Replace disposable masks with reusable face masks like cotton masks
  4. Consider developing biodegradable waste masks.

Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu of the University of Southern Denmark and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Zhiyong Jason Ren of Princeton University wrote an article on the subject in the journal Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering.

And the enigma of what to do with the recent deluge of masks is really a new frontier for scientists who have never before faced such a rapid explosion of a product for which there is no established responsible disposal method.

“With growing reports of inappropriate removal of masks, it is urgent to recognize this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem,” the researchers warn.

Single-use face masks, while great for reducing virus transmission, are difficult when it comes to recycling because they are made from many different materials.

“The common disposable surgical masks are made of three layers,” the researchers explain.

‘The outer layer consists of a non-absorbent material (e.g. polyester) that protects against liquid splashes.

‘The middle layer is non-woven fabrics (e.g. polypropylene and polystyrene) created by melting, which prevents droplets and aerosols from being electrostatically affected.

“The inner layer is made of absorbent material like cotton to absorb steam.”

This graphic shows the possible environmental impact of facial masks and what they can do to nature if they are not suitable

This graphic shows the possible environmental impact of facial masks and what they can do to nature if they are not suitable

In an article published by the University of Southern Denmark, experts call the huge amount of face masks worn and discarded a 'ticking clock bomb'

In an article published by the University of Southern Denmark, experts call the huge amount of face masks worn and discarded a ‘ticking clock bomb’

All of this ensures proper filtration, comfort and durability to protect the wearer and others from infectious droplets that may contain a pathogen.

Production of face masks now equates to plastic bottles, about 43 billion items a month.

But due to stubborn efforts by green activists to improve recycling for many years, one in four bottles is now fully recycled. On the contrary, there are no masks.

If inadvertently discarded into the wild, masks break into microphone and nanoplastic fibers within a few weeks.

These tiny fibers, less than 5mm and 1mm respectively, pose a huge risk to animal and human health.

Microplastics have been found to travel through air currents and have been spotted in the most uninhabited parts of the world, including the Alps, Antarctica and the “death zone” of Mt Everest.

The researchers proposed a variety of ways in which the environmental residue of facial masks can be minimized.

‘The environmental research community needs to move quickly to understand and mitigate [the risks masks pose to the environment], ‘they write.

‘Critical thinking on the three’ Rs ‘can be valuable: regulating (life-cycle assessment of production, disposal and pollution), reusing (disposable masks) and replacing (biodegradable materials) disposable masks.’

They also recommend people change, as much as possible, to cotton face masks as opposed to disposable alternatives.

Face masks and plastic gloves are found on THIRD British beaches

Protective items such as gloves and face masks are found on almost a third of all British beaches after spike use due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean-up in September uncovered the shocking rise of PPE waste.

This year volunteers asked themselves to adopt a 100-meter beach and organize their own, smaller beach cleanups with family friends and “bubbles,” in line with government leadership.

For the first time volunteers were asked to record the number of face masks and plastic gloves they found.

Those items were found on nearly 30 percent of beaches cleaned by Marine Conservation Society volunteers during the week-long event.

The results were supported by in-house data collected by volunteers embarking on the charity’s Source To Sea Litter Search Engine, which revealed that more than two-thirds (69%) of litters found PPE.

Pieces of plastic and polystyrene were the most commonly recovered items, followed by plastic and polystyrene caps and covers, wet wipes, cigarette butts and a plastic cord.

Great British Clean Beach coordinator Lizzie Prior said: ‘The amount of EPP our volunteers have found on beaches and inland this year is certainly worrying.

‘Considering that disguise was enforced only in shops in England at the end of July, just over three months before the Great Britain Beach Cleanup, the sharp rise in PPE waste should be a warning of what could be a new form of waste. polluting our beaches in the future. ‘

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