Thousands of tons of discarded facemasks now pollute the world’s waterways

As face masks are making a return across America, a not-so-new concern is once again being raised. Improperly discarded face masks polluted waterways in 2020 and it’s about to happen again.

A report published by OceansAsia claims over 7,000 tons of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable single-use medical facemasks will litter the world’s oceans after the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.  The report, entitled “Masks on the Beach” was written by Dr. Teal Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research for OceansAsia and Sam Cooke, Research Associate for the organization.

According to the report, single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection. These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste.

“The number of masks entering the environment on a monthly basis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is staggering. From a global production projection of 52 billion masks for 2020, we estimate that 1.56 billion masks will enter our oceans in 2020, amounting to between 4,680 and 6,240 metric tonnes of plastic pollution,” Dr. Bondaroff said.

“Action at every possible level is needed to address the serious threat posed by marine plastic pollution. When possible, individuals should choose to wear reusable masks and masks made from sustainable materials. Masks should always be disposed of responsibly. In general, individuals should strive to reduce their consumption of unnecessary single-use plastic, purchase from companies that offer these alternatives, and encourage other companies to reduce their use of plastic,” the report says.

You can read the full report here.

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