Now that COVID-19 has officially been declared a pandemic, this puts nearly half of the population of the world at risk. People are flocking to the nearest convenience stores and grocery stores and are stockpiling on toilet paper and hand sanitizers. But the item that was first to be sold out on a global scale was the face mask. We at Oxygenate were curious about what kind of impact the mass purchase of face masks has on the environment.
Although not many Canadians have purchased face masks, the world has been buying them in the millions to ward off the coronavirus after the outbreak began last December. This phenomenon leads to the shortage of masks supplies which has made it hard for even disease researchers to conduct their work on understanding the virus.
Masks are medical waste
Discarded Masks and Pollution
Although it has been only a few weeks of this mass disposal of face masks, the environmental group Ocean Asia found an overabundance of face masks mixed with other ocean pollutants off the coasts of Hong Kong. Gary Stokes, founder of Oceans Asia said he initially found 70 discarded masks on 100m stretch of beach and when he came back a week later, there were more than 30 new masks found.
Since masks are basically made of a plastic called propylene and are not going to break down quickly, this can cause serious environmental problems (we’ve talked about how damaging plastic is to our oceans in our last blog post – Microplastic). In addition to environmental damage, improper littering of face masks can aggravate the situation by spreading germs in the air and the water, delaying the disinfection period.
It is an undeniable fact that using masks is one of the preventive measures against COVID-19. But not all people have to wear masks in daily life. People with respiratory problems can harm their health when they wear masks for a long time since it disturbs air circulations. Also, if people do not know about the right way of using face masks or do not know how to follow the proper disposal instruction, using a face mask is useless.
We contacted the City of Toronto to learn where and how to dispose of used masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19. We will keep you informed of this matter once the city gets back to us.
We hope everyone who is subscribed to Oxygenate is safe and is keeping healthy against the virus. Keep in mind that according to the WHO, washing your hands, not touching your face and staying clean is the most important action to avoid the infection. Oxygenate, is always looking for ways to help the community and are always thinking about the environment. We are donating our eco-friendly toothbrushes to the homeless regularly so that they have access to basic oral care and health products. We also recommend you helping others less fortunate if you can. And if you have any ideas to help the environment or the community, please leave a comment below! It will be a big step forward to make a better world together!