The Pandemic Has Made Our Plastic Pollution Even Worse
Disposable surgical masks and gloves are being littered everywhere.
So as we’re trying to minimize our carbon footprint and aiming towards a world with less and less plastic waste, we are now challenged with a new type of plastic pollution — personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks and gloves.
This looks like a big step backwards in combating climate change as an incredible amount of PPE has already been found on the bottom of the oceans, some floating in the water, or being washed out on the beaches around the world. These masks are made from plastic-based materials, mainly from polypropylene but also polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester — none of them being eco-friendly.
Plastic masks and gloves pose a high risk for the environment as they can’t be recycled and are not compostable either. PPE contaminates the oceans and is deadly for animals, birds, and marine life because they can mistake it for food and ingest it, choke on it, or get entangled in it.
We all remember the start of the lockdown when we would hear news about noticeable less pollution in cities, a fall in carbon emissions, cleaner water in canals, etc. and thinking maybe there is a silver lining in this pandemic — a positive impact on the environment.
But then I would go outside for my daily walks and see all these single-use masks and gloves being dropped everywhere — streets, parks, pavements, etc. And I would immediately be thinking that they will end up in the environment—not only adding up to our existing plastic pollution crisis but making it worse.
This is an increasing problem as it is estimated that 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves are being used each month. A plastic problem that will leave irreversible damage on the environment.
To put things into perspective, let’s just imagine the Earth in 400 years from now — none of us will be alive but the effects of the PPE used during the pandemic will continue to exist up until then. And unfortunately, the remains of these masks will still be in the oceans because plastic masks take about 450 years to break down in nature. And even when it will eventually break down, it will be in the form of microplastics but never fully disappearing from the face of the Earth or bottom of the oceans.
Even during these times caring about the environment should still be a priority — we care about protecting ourselves but who protects Mother Earth? There is always an eco-friendly option and it will mean the world for our planet.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall