Face masks are playing an important role in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. However, N95 masks, as well as surgical masks, contain plastic material that cannot be recycled.
The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía
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It is no secret that humanity is facing a major problem because of the COVID-19 pandemic. High contagion rates have made us adopt serious measures to control its transmission. One of the most important measures that we have adopted is the use of face masks.
The wide use of face masks happened as a result of a recommendation by the World Health Organization, that highlighted its importance to mitigate the spread of COVID in public places. According to a study by Adyel, face mask production in China increased to 116 million per day in February 2020, 12 times higher than usual.
As mentioned in a study by Fadare and Offofo, single-use face masks contain a considerable amount of polymer material such as polyurethane, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyacrylonitrile, polyethylene, or polyester. Our current waste management systems were not designed to handle all of this waste that emerged from the measures taken to control COVID-19. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the improper management of only 1% of face masks may contribute to waste of 30,000 to 40,000 kg daily.
Additionally, according to the Marine Pollution Bulletin, which published a study estimating the annual face mask utilization and plastic pollution from mismanaged "masks in 46 countries, it is estimated that approximately 0.15 million tons to 0.39 million tons of plastic debris could end up in global oceans in a year." It is worth mentioning that when facemasks break down by the environment, they contribute to microplastic pollution, which can access marine organisms and enter into the food chains. At the same time, the consumption of microplastic has severe consequences for humans, such as obesity, cancer, and even infertility.
Let's explore some tips for face mask pollution:
1. Cut the straps off the face mask’s ear loops before disposing of them. This prevents animals from getting tangled in them.
2. Spend time finding garbage cans that are covered, and put them inside a garbage bag so that the face masks are not blown away.
3. When possible, go for reusable masks and leave single-use masks for doctors and people who work in hospitals.
4. Do not throw masks in single recycling bins, because they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities.
Finally, a paper by Selvaranjan and colleagues, strongly advises upcycling the waste from masks to produce construction materials like artificial aggregates, lightweight plastic blocks, or even ecological mortar to reduce the plastic waste and environmental impact.
Don’t forget to watch this tutorial on how to dispose of single-use masks: