The New Threat to Our Environment
Just when we thought people were becoming more aware of the dangers of plastic, and other non-degradable waste, along comes a pandemic which heralds a whole new threat...
The threat is masks and plastic gloves - worn once and then discarded, giving the general public worldwide a new item to litter. And not are they a threat to the environment BUT who would want to pick up any of these discarded items?
With masks becoming mandatory in many countries, the problem is going to get worse
In an interview, OceanAsia co-founder Gary Stokes said that he expects these items to be found inside of dead marine animals in the near future.
“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.”
China and Hong Kong were the first to notice a proliferation of waste masks and gloves suddenly washing up on their beaches. Reporting at the end of February, 2020, Oceans-Asia (while doing a twice monthly check of their research site at Soko Islands at the mouth of the Pearl River delta) noticed a new arrival to the beach - the surgical mask.
They went on to say: "Besides the obvious disgust in hygiene mentality, the interesting part for us is seeing the timing. With such a massive social change (everyone wearing masks) it has taken 6 weeks to see the effects wash up on our beaches. Surgical masks would possibly have been there before the COVID-19 virus in very small numbers, but no way on the scale we witnessed. We have been on this beach twice a month for 5 months. In Hong Kong we have already seen our nature trails getting trashed by masks, however to now know that something introduced en masse to a population, takes just 6 weeks to arrive on our beaches. This highlights we have a serious waste management system, both in Hong Kong and China."
Such pollution will not be confined to Asia
I have already seen discarded masks in a car park in my neck of the woods.
Environmentalists in the United States have been noticing a similar trend, as the use of masks and gloves continues to be more common in the country.
Maria Algarra, the founder of the Miami-based environmentalist group “Clean This Beach Up” has started a hashtag campaign called #TheGloveChallenge where she has encouraged people to take photos of discarded gloves and masks to illustrate how much of a widespread problem this littering is.
Such discarded items on the street can very easily get washed down drains during storms and eventually end up in the ocean or other waterways. Surgical masks and gloves can be especially damaging to the environment because they are often made out of fabrics and plastics that are not biodegradable and come in colors that are attractive to marine animals.
There have been lots of articles, memes and videos of how our planet was actually having some breathing space during the pandemic - recovery and restoration. Now, much of that good could be undone.
If people have been so successfully persuaded into habits of self distancing, wearing masks and generally isolating themselves, why cannot they also be educated to dispose of their waste gloves and masks in a responsible fashion?