I thought it couldn’t happen in our lifetime, but it did. Since the beginning of 2020, pandemics have become more intense around the world. Fortunately, medical researchers have learned more about how the coronavirus works, and researchers are already working on effective vaccines and treatments.
However, until the vaccine or treatment becomes widely available, the best way to reduce the spread of the virus is to wear a face mask to protect yourself. Wearing a face mask that covers the nose and mouth and seals the sides in combination with social distance can provide effective protection against viruses. The level of coronavirus protection depends on the type of mask you are wearing.
Environmental problems associated with the disposal of inappropriate face masks
Face masks, even washable ones, are often disposed of. Unfortunately, this causes major environmental problems. Disposable masks are made of lightweight non-woven polypropylene, polycarbonate, polyester, or polyethylene materials. These materials are plastic-based, although they prevent pathogens. And, as we all know, plastics are non-biodegradable, making their disposal a major global issue.
According to recent disposal and recycling statistics, face masks are new “pet bottles”. Green Matters estimates that over 129 billion face masks are thrown each month to combat the coronavirus. It’s a large amount going to our ocean that is already supersaturated with plastic waste. Marine animals mistake these masks for food, which can lead to entanglement, ingestion, choking, and death.
The mask can also be broken down into microplastic fibers. When these fish are harvested and prepared for human consumption, ingested microplastics can pass through our bodies, which can adversely affect our health.
Finally, the recycling program schedule and funding will be postponed as a safety measure to avoid the virus. The postponement of these programs has become an obstacle to what may have been a viable solution to serious environmental problems.
Correctly dispose of the face mask
According to recycling statistics, about 20 percent of plastic is recyclable. Unfortunately, disposable face masks and surgical masks are intended to be disposable and cannot be recycled. After using them, they need to be disposed of.
Used face masks worn in public places are considered household waste and are not subject to medical waste disposal. Face masks must be properly disposed of to reduce their impact on the environment. Here are the steps on how to do this:
- Dirty, damp, crumpled, or dirty disposable masks should be disposed of immediately.
- Carefully remove the mask from your face. Hold it in the ear loops, not the mask cover itself. When doing this, be gentle to reduce the chance of shaking off trapped pathogens.
- Cut off the ear ring with scissors. Without ear loops, wildlife is less likely to get entangled if the mask invades the environment.
- Do not throw used masks directly into the trash. Rather, put it in a sealed plastic bag. You can use a larger bag to collect a certain amount of face masks. Other disposable items worn by coronavirus-positive people, such as gloves, should also be placed in a plastic bag.
- Close and seal the plastic bag and put the bag in the trash for disposal schedule.
- Alternatively, contact a service provider that specializes in the treatment of hazardous waste. These providers can handle the disposal of all types of solid, hazardous, and medical waste.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time you dispose of the mask. It takes 20 seconds for the soap to destroy the protective fat envelope of the virus.
- Medical facilities, hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and other institutions have different protocols for disposing of masks. Face masks worn in medical facilities or face masks worn by positive patients must comply with medical waste disposal regulations.
Recently, the Ministry of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies responsible for pandemics have issued recommendations for booking surgery, KN95, and other specialized masks with healthcare professionals. The average person does not need a special mask protection level unless they are caring for an infected person in the house.
Want to improve your recycling statistics? Then use a cloth mask. You can also make your own from old clothes. Or, if you have an artistic tendency, you can design your own as a fashion statement. Just wash the cloth mask every time you use it. Once dry, it can be reused.
Our own protection against coronavirus requires wearing a face mask. However, the heavy use and disposal of face masks, which was once left only to medical personnel, is burdening the environment. To ensure a sustainable environment, you need to find solutions such as using cloth masks, conducting information drives, and cleaning the coastline.