Discarded Face Masks And Gloves Are Rising Threat To Ocean Life
As more people wear face masks and gloves in a bid to protect themselves in recent weeks, environmentalists have warned against disposing of them incorrectly.
Discarded face masks and gloves are piling up on beaches and pathways, streets and pavements – even car parks – by people who either can’t be bothered to dispose of them in the right way or who simply don’t understand the risks of not doing so.
Not only does leaving your protective gear on the streets have a detrimental impact on the environment, it also poses a wider risk to the community as those who end up in contact with the used gloves and masks – likely to be essential key workers – could get infected.
Aside from this public health risk though, many of the masks and gloves that are being left on the streets are made from non-biodegradable materials and therefore pose a huge threat to the health of oceans and marine life.
One person attempting to raise awareness about the problem is Maria Algarra, founder of Clean This Beach Up, who started #TheGloveChallenge campaign last month. Using the hashtag, she asked people to send photos of discarded gloves to get a true insight into the scale of the problem.
Maria told The Independent she has seen dozens of plastic gloves littering the ground in her neighrbourhood, and has so far received 1,200 pictures from around the world of the same thing. In those photos alone, she said roughly 1,800 gloves could be counted.
Maria said the gloves were a growing problem both for the ocean and on dry land, explaining: ‘It not only causes risk to wildlife but to other people who could get infected, our sanitation workers and other shoppers for example, when gloves are left in carts.’
Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until micro-plastic is everywhere. It’s toxic and it’s in what we’re eating and drinking. There’s no way to clean up micro-plastics. Once trash makes it into the ocean and breaks into smaller pieces, it’s almost impossible to take it back.
With the glove challenge, it’s about education. That’s the key for us to do better as a community and as humans. We can’t expect people to change their ways if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong.
It isn’t just discarded gloves that are the problem either; masks have been piling up across Hong Kong, with environmental groups warning that the waste is simply adding to the already-dangerous levels of plastic pollution.
The masks are made using non-biodegradable fabrics including plastics like polypropylene, and as such are not going to break down quickly, said Tracey Read, founder of the group Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong.
She told Reuters:
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.
The masks had already been piling up in the months leading up to the current public health crisis – with conservation group OceansAsia sharing a picture of dozens they had found on Hong Kong beaches during a year-long project in February – but the problem is likely to be much more serious now, when more and more people are wearing them to protect themselves.
The co-founder of OceansAsia, Gary Stokes, told The Independent:
The way I see these masks in the environment is just another addition to the ever-growing marine debris crisis our oceans are facing.
No better, no worse, just shouldn’t be there in the first place. I’m waiting to hear of the first necropsy that finds masks inside a dead marine animal. It’s not a question of if, but when.
Obviously, face masks and gloves are vital in the fight against coronavirus, and should be used as a way to both protect people and prevent the spread of the virus.
But it’s also vital that we dispose of them in the correct way, with the World Health Organization (WHO) advising to dispose of them immediately after use in a closed bin before washing your hands either with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or soap and water.
According to government advice, any face masks or gloves should be double-bagged and securely fastened before being presented for collection. If unsure, you should always contact your local authority to learn about the proper ways to dispose of your waste correctly.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.