Masks Protect People Not The Earth

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.

N95 - Named for their ability to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, N95s do protect against illnesses, including Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2

Masks are medical waste

Although medical experts do agree that single-use masks are an effective measure to prevent the spread of infections transmitted by respiratory droplets, used masks must be disposed of properly. Mask fits into the World Health Organization(WHO) medical waste classifications. Used masks can allow for disease transmission and should not be disposed of with the other household waste in the same bin since it can be a second source of spreading. When it comes to disposing of medical waste, they need to be collected separately in a special container and can only be collected by licensed companies. The waste is then transported by special vehicles by qualified people and incinerated with other medical waste.
 
As the consumption of masks increased, coping with the high volume of discarded masks outside of hospitals became a problem. Implementing a special garbage bin to collect the used mask could be one way of solving that problem. But given that the separate garbage system is currently not implemented well in many of the cities, these contaminated masks are mixed with the regular garbage. To deal with this issue, people should disinfect both sides of the used masks and wrap them into sealed bags before throwing them away, preventing them from being exposed to the air. 
Special garbage bin set up in a residential community in Xigu District of Lanzhou city, Gansu

Discarded Masks and Pollution

Discarded face masks are also contributing to pollution. Since a large number of face masks are not disposed of properly and have instead been dumped on the street or in the sea, it is posing a huge threat to marine life and wildlife habitat which might end up causing a second-hand infection to human.

 

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.

proper disposal

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 to the City of Toronto to learn where and how to dispose these used masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19. We will inform more information about this matter once we get back from the city.

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 actions 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 homeless people 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!

City of Toronto Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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