The rise in usage of disposable facial masks and gloves because of the coronavirus is adding to and already major issue.
It increases the plastic pollution and is a threat to the health of our marine life and oceans, claim environmentalists.
The New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, issued an order that New Yorkers have to wear a mask when out in public in cases when social distancing isn’t possible.
The CDC advises wearing cloth masks when out in public because of the worry that covid-19 can be spread by the people who’re infected, but asymptomatic.
Single Use Masks & Gloves, Major Threat to Oceans
However, Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General, warned American citizens to cease the buying of medical masks that medical workers need.
This has done little to cease the usage and improper discarding of these single-use masks and latex gloves.
Social media is flooded with photos of blue gloves and crumpled masks polluting the streets, shopping carts, parking lots, green spaces, and beaches worldwide.
The sanitation workers and staff from groceries stores are the ones who end up picking them up. The ones that don’t get picked up and properly discarded go into the drains and eventually into our waterways.
A lot of these masks have materials which aren’t recyclable and biodegradable. For example, surgical masks are made with non-woven fabrics and plastics such as polypropylene.
NOAA points out that plastic is a major danger for the marine ecosystems- with plastic swirling around in the water, it breaks down to small pieces or microplastics.
Unfortunately, according to the Ocean Conservancy, a lot of fish eat the plastic waste because they confuse it for real food. Estimates point out that at least 600 distinct wildlife species are directly under the threat of this pollution.
Humans Are Also Affected by Plastic Pollution
Humans aren’t immune to the plastic pollution- there’s a human health risk of plastic going into our food as globally, around billion people consume seafood for protein.
This being said, masks and gloves add to the already major issue- at least 8 m tons of plastic goes into the oceans per year, making it 80 percent of all the debris in the oceans.
Seabirds may also mistake the latex gloves for food because of their bright colours, as well as marine mammals and turtles, and thus, are at a higher risk of injuries and even death.
Last year, one sperm whale died after it stranded on a beach on the Isle of Harris in Scotland and it was found to contain 220 lb debris in its stomach, including ropes, bags, plastic gloves, and cups!
Protecting Ourselves, but What about Others?!
Even though people think they’re keeping themselves safe by wearing these masks and gloves and then throwing them away, what about protecting everybody and disposing of them adequately?
Maria Algarra, who started the hashtag campaign #TheGloveChallenge said that since the outbreak, she’s witnessed dozens of gloves floating in the bay, on parking lots, and elsewhere.