Ocean non-profits from different countries, like OceanAsia in HongKong and Opération Mer Propre, in France, whose activities include regularly researching and picking up litter on the beach, raised an urgent call for a new environmental problem: the pandemic trash.
Masks, bottles of hand sanitizers and plastic gloves are becoming a hazard as people discharge them on the streets, on the beach and on inappropriate places. Conservationists have warned that we may have a surge in ocean pollution – after finding disposable masks floating like jellyfish and waterlogged latex gloves scattered across seabeds mixed in with the usual litter of plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
The lifespan of plastic mask is of around 450 years and we have produced billions of extra plastic material for the pandemic everywhere in the globe. In early March, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40%. Although WHO estimated 89 million medical masks would be required for the Covid-19 response each month, along with 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million goggles, just China has manufactured 200 million face masks a day
200 million masks a day is the number of China production
of face masks to fight the pandemic.
How the pandemic trash will impact nature?
The amount is insane. Although they are essential items in hospitals, where the equipment could prove the difference between life and death for doctors, nurses and patients and for individual protection, we have not concerned enough about future discharge problems as contamination and environmental impact. We already have a 13 million tonnes of plastic going into oceans every year, according to 2018 UN Environment estimate.
We urge for policies to proper protective gear disposal amid pandemic. In Morocco, where almost 1 million of these masks are used daily, the government has recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about the safe disposal of these means of protection against the coronavirus. However, most countries have no appropriate discharge for plastic material produced by the pandemic and many of this trash is appearing on the oceans.
We also need to think about collective security, people who work with garbage collection and recycling. Therefore, for individual materials, where there is no appropriate collection, we can unload the masks and gloves inside plastic bags without holes, intact, and writing a message on the outside “CAUTION, covid’s garbage”, preventing the material from contaminating the outside of the plastic bag and warning people who handle the garbage.
Naturally, in countries like India, which generates about 60 million tonnes of garbage every day and about 45 million tonnes of garbage remains untreated, the challenge is bigger than in smaller countries with a more structured garbage management. The WHO has specific recommendations for Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus. You can download here. You can also adopt simple attitudes like discharging all material in a separated identified plastic bag, so street collectors can be aware and take precautions.
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Note: we list some organizations that act around the globe according the relation between the work they are doing and the subject of each news. There is no money involved and please, further check yourself.
Opération Mer Propre: https://www.ungestepourlamer.org/
WWF Oceans: https://www.worldwildlife.org/