Covid-19 hits the world at the same time when all the high authorities and different agencies were fighting against environmental problems and pollution. It introduces a new environmental hazard in the face of masks and gloves. Masks and gloves played a key role in the protection from the spread of Covid-19, but at the same time, it made the environment worst. Although vaccines are circulating around the world that have shown positive signs to decrease the pandemic situations. Yet, the use of these masks is not limited. According to Thomas Index report that says mask was the most used category in the last quarter of 2020. Also, some environmental activists are warning of the new plastic mask hazard.
As the lockdown begins to open, the world has seen the unseen form of pollution in the form of face masks and gloves. The world was in complete lockdown for about three months, masks and gloves became the permanent inhabitants of the streets. When it rains such waste then ends up in oceans. Moreover, masks were seen more on beaches shores than people. According to Germany’s broadcaster, OceansAsia has found 100 masks on the beachside that’s few miles away from Hong Kong. Such an item has never been seen in that area before. Besides the SFTS virus, which may be a new pandemic in the coming days this plastic pollution is adding fire to the problem. These are the reasons to worry as the world’s oceans are already in chaos due to plastic pollution.
Mask Waste to the Environment
The mask waste has enormously increased with the pandemic and also because of the negligence of the people for not adopting the proper disposal methods for used masks. This results in environmental hazards. In addition, countries like Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and China, and some parts of other countries have no proper system of waste collecting. That adds a large amount of plastic and its particles to the environment which ends up in freshwater, marine water also mixed with the air. These masks in one way protect us from Covid-19 but at the same time welcoming bulk of diseases. These particles we inhale or drink with water can cause serious health issues as they are already contaminated.
Furthermore, its production also adds more and more CO2 to the environment which negatively affects our health and also causes global warming. The N95 mask production contributes; 50g of CO2 to the environment and surgical mask 59g and cloth mask 60g. The more the production of masks, the more will it release CO2 to the environment. A study was conducted in the UK that issue a report over the surgical mask that if an individual uses one disposable surgical mask a day, after a year, it would result in 124,000 tons of unrecyclable waste, 67,000 tons of contaminated waste, and 58,000 tons of plastic. The net result is horrific and can cause more severe health issues than Covid-19.
COVID-19 Facemasks & Marine Plastic Pollution
The report of global production is around 52 billion masks were manufactured in the year 2020. Around 1.5 billion masks are estimated to enter the oceans in 2020 that is according to the report released by Hong-Kong-based Marine Conservation Organization OceansAsia. Horribly, these masks will decay in a roundabout 450 years and will convert into microplastic that will strongly affect marine life. Besides, those 1.5 billion masks that are going to add to oceans are just the tip of the iceberg. Resultantly, it will add an additional 4,690 to 6,250 metric tons of marine plastic pollution. Plastic pollution which was the problem in the past significantly increased with Covid-19 pandemics.
The use of face masks and their production was significantly increased in pandemic situations. It was the prime tool to prevent the spread of the virus. The government is also taking a keen interest in the use of face masks. But the main problem is that the pollution of face masks is directly related to its use and production. Another problem is that they cannot be recycled because of their composition and risk of infections. They are thrown into the oceans when their volume increases. That action is devastated for marine life as it has already killed 100,000 marine inhabitants, including; turtles, fishes, over a million seabirds, and other animals every year. Moreover, it also negatively affects tourism.
Hazardous to People and Animals
That’s another side that can also be the cause of spreading in Covid-19 where the infected mask can come in contact with the waste collector, litter pickers, or someone else who comes across them. We all know that these viruses can stay on the plastic masks for about 7 days. During this period, animals can also come in contact with them and can eat them as some of them don’t know the difference between the plastic items and their prey. It will fill up their stomach having no nutrition but fatal disease. Small animals can also be the victim when such plastics break apart.
Plastics turn in parts after a specific time and the longer they will present in the environment the more they will decompose. They first break in to microparticles and sooner into nanoparticles. These small particles stay for a longer time and can be a part of the food and can adversely affect the eco-system. A single mask decomposes into millions of particles and carries chemicals and bacteria that can disturb the food chain and can give potential damage to humans. Such are the problems that are the aftermath of Covid-19. Handling Covid-19 is a major achievement but their aftermaths are even worse.
To conclude the above discussion, the world is heading to another environmental hazard that will adversely affect humans, birds, and marine life. Covid-19 is the current threat but its outcome will be even worse. Vaccines are just started worldwide that will help in curing Covid-19 patients but how will we clean our environment? This is not a matter of days or weeks but it takes years and during that interval, the world will see much destruction and chaos that people will forget the damages caused by the Covid-19. Moreover, timely precautions can limit future problems and the government has also to take early measures to tangle this problem. Also as a citizen, it needs attention and our well to keep our environment clean and protect ourselves and our off-springs from such a horrendous environment.