More Than 1.5 Billion Face Masks Thought To Have Entered Ocean This Year
More than 1.5 billion face masks are estimated to have entered the world’s oceans in 2020, resulting in an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic pollution.
According to a recent report, face masks can take up to 450 years to break down, gradually turning into micro plastics while having a profoundly negative impact for marine wildlife and ecosystems.
The report, published by OceansAsia, used a global production estimation of 52 billion masks being made in 2020, a conservative loss rate of 3%, and the average weight of three to four grams for a single-use face mask to arrive at an estimate of 1.56 billion masks.
Plastic consumption has been rising steadily for years, and has seen a significant increase due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Director of Operations of OceansAsia, Gary Stokes, said:
Hygiene concerns and greater reliance on take-away food has led to increased use of plastics, particularly plastic packaging.
Meanwhile, a number of measures designed to reduce plastic consumption, like single-use plastic bag bans, have been delayed, paused, or rolled back.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly face masks, is now commonly used as a means of preventing the spread of coronavirus, with mask-wearing now the law in many public places. PPE production has increased as a way of meeting escalating demand, with PPE waste having also seen a dramatic increase.
Single-use masks are manufactured from various meltblown plastics, and can be tricky to recycle due to their composition and the risk of contamination and infection. They can enter oceans due to littering, or because of inadequate, non-existent or overwhelmed waste management systems.
Marine plastic pollution is devastating our oceans. Plastic pollution kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates and other animals each year.
It also negatively impacts fisheries and the tourism industry, and costs the global economy an estimated $13 billion USD per year.
The report encourages people to wear reusable masks whenever they can, to correctly dispose of masks and to cut down on their overall consumption of single-use plastic.
It also calls upon governments to implement policies that would encourage reusable mask use, including releasing guidelines in regards to the proper manufacture and use of reusable masks, and fostering innovation and the development of sustainable alternatives to single-use masks.
Governments are also advised to discourage littering by raising fines, improving public education about disposing of masks responsibly, and repairing and improving waste management systems as a means of reducing losses and spillages.
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