A lot of discarded single-use masks, originally used to protect the spread of coronavirus, are causing harm. Very significant harm to the environment. But what are the Coronavirus masks' effect on the environment in essence?
Environmental group “OceanAsia” recently conducted a survey trip to the Soko's islands in Hong Kong. The result came shocking as they found masses of surgical masks washing up on the shoreline.
Gary Stokes, OceanAsia’s Founder, told Energy Live News: “We have found 70 discarded masks within 100 meters of the beach and an additional 30 masks when we returned a week later. Over time the team has seen the odd mask here and now, however, this time they were all along the high tide line and foreshore with new arrivals coming in on the current. When you suddenly have a population of seven million people wearing one to two masks per day the amount of trash generated is going to be substantial.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff claimed that a mask that ingested by a local turtle, or dolphin could be deadly. It could easily become stuck in the digestive system of any animal – and kill them.
As known, most of the masks are built using polypropylene, which doesn't really break down quickly. And marine plastic pollution is a serious matter and problem. It's estimated that roughly over 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans annually. This plastic doesn't disappear, but rather slowly breaks down into micro-plastic. This enters the food-chains, and it has a devastating effect.
The company urges people to consult with their local authorities in order to learn about the proper ways of disposal. Especially with the surgical masks. The company states that the surge in mask-based rubbish highlights serious weaknesses in waste management.
Soko's islands filled with masses of surgical masks
During the said survey trip to the Soko's Islands, the OceanAsia team found masses of surgical masks washing up the shoreline. It's sad to see the Coronavirus masks' effect on the environment.
The Soko's are a very small cluster of islands, lying just off the SW coast of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Currently, OceanAsia is carrying out a number of plastic pollution research projects there. That's due to their remoteness. Two times a month, the team visits the islands in order to carry out micro-plastic surveys. They do generalized beach trash accumulation analysis as well. And they investigate the composition of debris, looking for clues of their origination.
Also, in conjunction with SMRU as part of the “WWF's Blue Ocean initiative”, they're carrying out drone survey work. This is how they're monitoring the ocean surface trash.
One item was very notable during their analysis of marine debris – the surgical mask. Over time, the team has seen a lot of odd masks here and now, understandably. However, this time they were along the high tide line and foreshore with new arrival coming in on the current.
Due to the COVID-19, the general population has all taken the precaution of wearing masks. This slows down the spread of coronavirus remarkably. And, when you suddenly have 7 million people wearing one to two masks per day, the amount of trash is going to be substantial.
Discarded coronavirus masks are piling up on Hong Kong's beaches
The majority of Hong Kong's population (7.4 million) have been using a single-use face mask every day. For weeks. This is their way of hoping in warding off the coronavirus. Already, ti has infected 126 people in the city and killed 3 of them.
But, huge numbers of the masks are not disposed of properly and have instead been piling up on Hong Kong's beaches. This is a serious problem because marine life could mistake them for food.
“We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume … we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” said Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia.
Initially, he claimed to find 70 discarded masks on a 100 meters stretch of beach. But, when he came back a week later there were 30 new ones. It's the biggest Coronavirus masks' effect on the environment.
“This is quite alarming” he stated. And, other beaches around the city tell quite a similar story, he added.
“Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches. It is unhygienic and dangerous,” said Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong.
“People think they’re protecting themselves but it’s not just about protecting yourselves, you need to protect everybody and by not throwing away the mask properly, it’s very selfish.”
How to dispose of your face mask properly
As coronavirus continues to spread, we're forced to wear face masks in order to stop the spread.
Here's how to dispose of your face mask properly:
- Remove the mask by using the appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace or earloop from behind).
- After removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if visibly soiled.
- Replace mask with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid.
- Do not re-use single-use masks.
- Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.
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