Just when we thought COVID-19 couldn’t cause any more problems, we are reminded that the climate crisis is still in a state of emergency, however now with its own additional problems…
Indeed, conservationists and scientists alike have raised concerns regarding the recent surge in ocean pollution – “adding to a glut of plastic waste” that already exists and threatens marine life on a continuous basis.
Divers have found what Joffrey Peltier, founder of the non-profit organization Operation Mer Propre, are describing as “Covid waste” – with dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitisers scattered beneath the waves of the Mediterranean.
The problem is not just on European soil, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreaks over recent months. OceansAsian, a grassroots environmental organization based in Hong Kong, reported earlier in the month that disposable masks were found floating underwater and on seabeds.
Whilst litter pickers and environmental activists attempt to stop the spread of ocean plastics on the shores of their beaches, it seems this is only a temporary solution to a much larger issue. Emmanuel Macron described the masks as an ‘ecological time bomb’ given their exhaustive lifespan of over 450 years and with over two billion disposable masks ordered in France, this problem does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon!
While the economic slowdown brought by the virus pandemic has reduced carbon emissions, these are only short term measures. The temporary resolution to pollution will not alleviate the long-term damage caused by fossil fuels and is not sufficient to save our planet.
With PPE masks adding additional pressure on an already deplorable situation, preventative steps are thus essential to reduce our Ocean plastic waste. It seems that if face coverings are now a compulsory part of our everyday attire, then we must find a way of avoiding unnecessary waste.
How to appropriately dispose of PPE equipment
With this being said, it is vital that you dispose of your masks in the most environmentally and hygienic way possible – to stop the spread both on land and in our beautiful waters.
Best practices for disposal of non-biodegradable PPE masks is by putting them in the bin after use. Head of Clean Seas, Dr Laura Foster states that “if you’re opting to wear a single-use mask, in line with government and WHO guidance, then please ensure to dispose of the mask correctly by throwing it in the bin”.
However, experts do stipulate that even if we dispose of masks in the bin, they are most likely to end up in rivers and oceans at some point, or alternatively end up filling more landfill sites.
The best solution? To avoid single use plastics where possible.
What’s being done?
Initiatives are already being implemented across the globe as well as right on our doorstep. The UCL plastic waste innovation hub is currently trying to get the UK government to stop promoting single use masks to the public to reduce the pollution we are currently witnessing on our beaches. Our partners at PlasticOceans have also actively campaigned to reduce the importation of PPE equipment from overseas and to have locally sourced products that can be created in such a way that the plastic elements can be recycled and reused – thus making it more environmentally friendly in the long term.
Increasingly, activists are attempting to reduce the use of plastic caused by this pandemic – to stop the spread and prevent adding more ocean debris!
But the choice is also up to you, too! Think consciously when you purchase your PPE equipment. Ask yourself, is this reusable? Indeed, there’s already a large proportion of the country opting for fashionable face-coverings with patterned cottons and textures that accentuate their personality and match their daily attire. Try out your local businesses or even create a make-shift mask yourself. It’s important to be mindful about your plastic waste…before it’s too late.