The recent increased need for single use masks and gloves has led to a troubling issue in our oceans.
The pandemic virus has reached its devastating grasp to every corner of the world. We’re seeing the affects of it in rural areas, cities, and back roads we never thought we would. While more and more people are having to stay home, some still have to venture out into the open.
Going to procure groceries, drop off mail at the post office, or just heading into work, one thing is a commonality- you’ve got to wear your mask when in public.
The good news is that more people are starting to listen to the CDC guidelines and they are in fact wearing their masks. The bad news, those very same masks that are protecting others from potential death, are also polluting our oceans in extremely harmful ways.
But it’s not just masks, it’s gloves as well.
While people across the globe have been encouraged to wear PPE to protect themselves from the virus, one thing that doesn’t seem to have been relayed is how to correctly dispose of them.
While the masks may have short-term health benefits for people protecting themselves from coronavirus, PPE masks and latex gloves getting into the ocean are bound to have have long-term detrimental effects on the environment.
Masks have an estimated life span of 450 years in the natural environment, making them ‘veritable ecological time bombs’, reported Treehugger.
One non-profit organization, Opération Mer Propre, who regularly collects litter from alongside the French Riviera, made a startling discovery regarding these masks and gloves. They raised their concerns on a public Facebook post, which already has over 8-thousand shares.
Translated into English, it reads, “Operation COVID 19 this morning… this is it the first disposable masks arrived in the Mediterranean!
Unfortunately, it was expected to see the number of masks and gloves thrown directly into the gutters… more than ever we will have to take action against all these incivilities, from the can to the mask because whoever throws his can will also throw his mask…! It’s just the beginning and if nothing changes it will become a real ecological disaster and maybe even health!”
Laurent Lambord of Opération Mer Propre also expressed his concerns on Facebook. He said, ‘Knowing that more than 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.’
This isn’t only happening in the Mediterranean, it is happening everywhere.
Earlier this year the Hong Kong-based OceansAsia began voicing similar concerns, after a survey of marine debris in the city’s uninhabited Soko Islands turned up dozens of disposable masks.
“On a beach about 100 metres long, we found about 70,” said Gary Stokes of OceansAsia. One week later, another 30 masks had washed up. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.”
In the years leading up to the pandemic, environmentalists had warned of the threat posed to oceans and marine life by skyrocketing plastic pollution. As much as 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into oceans each year, according to a 2018 estimate by UN Environment. The Mediterranean sees 570,000 tonnes of plastic flow into it annually – an amount the WWF has described as equal to dumping 33,800 plastic bottles every minute into the sea.
We’ve got to do better. Just because we are facing a pandemic doesn’t mean our marine life has to as well.