During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are practicing the safety measures that were suggested by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) months ago. We wear our masks and gloves, we remain at home (sometimes), and we practice social distancing. All of this is wonderful when we think of how it might spare us from becoming ill with a deadly virus.
However, how does this affect the environment? Are we killing the world around us in our effort to save ourselves? We just might, considering the number of improperly disposed face masks and rubber gloves that are being found in the ocean and city streets.
When everyone was informed on how to prevent themselves from becoming inflicted with the coronavirus that had made its way into the communities of countries throughout the world, they somehow missed—or was never told—the importance of proper disposal of their protective gear once it was used.
People are now taking off their face masks and rubber gloves after leaving an establishment, and rather than throwing them in the trash, they are simply throwing them on the ground. Towns are littered with paper face masks that are not biodegradable and rubber gloves. Unfortunately, there are also those who are flushing these items down the toilet, leaving our local sewage systems to become backed up. This contaminates the environment, and it further causes damage when these items eventually make it to our oceans.
The ocean has already dealt with its fair share of plastic products that were finding their way to the sea. Many fish and sea creatures were not only being caught up in plastic streamers, but many sea creatures were—and still are—dying from ingested plastic. Now, we are adding to this dilemma by including rubber gloves that have the ability to resemble another sea creature that would typically be eaten. Our oceans are becoming more polluted, and our sea inhabitants are slowly dying.
To address the issue surrounding protective face masks that are harming the ocean, environmental group OceansAsia conducted a study and found masses of surgical masks washed up on the shoreline in Soko’s islands in Hong Kong. “We found 70 discarded masks within 100 meters of the beach and an additional 30 masks when we returned a week later,” stated OceanAsia’s founder, Gary Stokes.
His concern surrounded the fact that over 7 million people wore at least two face masks per day in Hong Kong and that the amount of trash that would be generated would be incredibly substantial. Other specialists have stepped in to condemn the amount of improperly disposed of masks and gloves that are finding their way to our oceans. Some experts note that if sea creatures ingest disposed masks and have them stuck in their digestive system; they could easily die.
Many people are under the impression that they are doing the right thing when they wear face masks and rubber gloves. They assume that they are safe, even if they dispose of the materials without considering the consequences. Unfortunately, what they don’t understand is that these materials are very dangerous to the environment and they have the power to kill. Saving oneself from a virus seems counterproductive if the same measures used to save oneself end up killing something else.
Environmental experts suggest that individuals check with their local authorities to learn of the best ways to dispose of their unwanted face masks and gloves. The city within each state should have particular measures that are already in place to accommodate the high levels of trash that unused face masks and gloves will generate. Hopefully the world will remember that the only true way to ensure the best health is to protect the environment around them.
By Audra L.