The coronavirus pandemic put the whole world in fear and anxiety focusing on how to prevent the further spread of the virus and how to get protected from the infection. The recommended protective gear by CDC is wearing a face mask and latex gloves which most of them are single-use, so you can imagine what happens with the waste of the overuse of these masks. However, CDC advised wearing cloth masks by people who show no symptoms in order to prevent the spread of the infection.
In the beginning of the pandemic this protective gear was at great shortage that the ones who mostly needed them like the health care officers could not have enough for daily work, and because of that experts urge people not to buy these single-use medical masks and latex gloves.
In the midst of the fight against COVID-19 no one thought of the possible pollution as a result of the disposable face masks and gloves.
Environmentalists warn that they have become a major threat to oceans and marine life as many of them contain materials that are not biodegradable and cannot be recycled.
People throw them away in shopping carts, on streets, parking lots, and beaches, and if they are not picked up, they can be caught by a gust of wind or washed down drains, and end up polluting waterways and oceans.
Plastic is the worst enemy of the oceans and the marine ecosystems according to NOAA. In addition to this, the Ocean Conservancy warns about the threat that plastic debris imposes on many fish species that have in their stomach plastics debris since they believe that it is food.
Not only is the fish endangered with the consumption of plastic, but as well as other 600 different wildlife species. Namely, the latex gloves seem attempting due to their bright color to the turtles, seabirds, and other marine mammals considering it as food.
Seafood is the favorite meal to billion people in the world and for some it is their primary protein source, so imagine if the fish consume plastic, then the humans will consume it as well. Pollution is not a threat only to the marine life but also to the health and well-being of the humans.
Oceans Asia, a conservation group, in February posted a photo of dozens of surgical masks discarded on Hong Kong beaches.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research at Oceans Asia, explained that so many discarded masks “underscores the weaknesses in the waste management supply chain.” He emphasizes the importance of properly discarding the masks and asks people to follow the guidelines concerning the proper mask disposal.
According to Tracey Read, founder of the group Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong, it is selfish to think only about the well-being of your body and forget the environment by not “throwing away the mask properly”.
The co-founder of Oceans Asia Gary Stokes stated:
“The way I see these masks in the environment is just another addition to the ever-growing marine debris crisis our oceans are facing. No better, no worse just shouldn’t be there in the first place. I’m waiting to hear of the first necropsy that finds masks inside a dead marine animal. It’s not a question of if, but when.”
He himself witnesses the pile-up of masks on the beaches, namely he found 70 discarded masks on 100m stretch of beach the first time, and when he returned, he discovered even 30 more.
In the states, Maria Algarra on 23rd March initiated a hashtag campaign known as #TheGloveChallenge in order to raise the awareness of people regarding the current pollution.
She was also a witness of dozens of plastic gloves littered, and people sent her more than 1,200 photos of thrown away plastic gloves in the environment.
Regarding this issue she said:
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. One girl sent a video where she found over 30 gloves from her car to the door of the store that she was going to.
It not only causes risk to wildlife but to other people who could get infected, our sanitation workers and other shoppers for example, when gloves are left in carts.
With the glove challenge, it’s about education. That’s the key for us to do better as a community and as humans. We can’t expect people to change their ways if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong.
Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until micro-plastic is everywhere. It’s toxic and it’s in what we’re eating and drinking.
There’s no way to clean up micro-plastics. Once trash makes it into the ocean and breaks into smaller pieces, it’s almost impossible to take it back.”
According to the guideline of WHO – The World Health Organization, face masks and latex gloves should be disposed in a proper way, being disposed immediately after use, in a closed bin. The person who has been wearing them must wash its hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Additionally, the government officials suggest the use of double-bagged and securely fastened face masks and gloves.
Protect yourself from the coronavirus, but meanwhile protect the environment as we shall need it for the years to come. Earth is our only home that we have.