It is a common sight these days to see masks and gloves littered in the parking lots, on the roads, grounds, sidewalks, beaches, and parks.
Masks are the first line of defense against ongoing pandemic but when it comes to its safe disposal, we are least bothered.
Let’s read the article written for Oman Observer by a physician and wellness advisor.
Our planet is already overwhelmed with litter and now we have this additional pandemic litter that is further fanning the flames. We all are well aware that it is not a healthy practice to garbage but despite our sagacity, we all do it sometimes or the other subconsciously.
What drives us to throw waste in the open is laziness or carelessness to hunt for a trash bin. We think about what difference it makes. It’s the job of litter pickers; why do we bother.
Contaminated masks improperly disposed of are a potential health hazard to public health. Moreover, they are new plunderers of our environment along with cigarette butts and food wrappers.
As per UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), owing to historical data; it is expected that 75% of used masks and other pandemic-related waste will end up in landfills or floating in seas.
We witness birds and animals throttled to death after being entrapped and entangled in mask loops. Larger animals can even mistake them for food and can ingest masks, gloves, and PPEs.
The very thought of entry of pandemic litter into our food chains through the land, water bodies, or animals is stupefying and horrifying. These are the immediate consequences of pandemic litter which are no more pernicious than its delayed consequences hundreds of years later as medical waste is composed of single-use toxic plastics.
Apart from causing environmental and health havoc, the estimated financial cost by UNEP in areas of tourism and fisheries is around $40 billion.
It’s simple. Just dispose of it properly in a trash can. If you cannot find one, keep it with you in a paper bag and then dispose of it in the garbage later.
We are responsible inhabitants of this planet and indeed, we don’t want to be disease spreaders or environmental damage inducers.
One little initiative can save the other person and we need to keep the chain intact so that if everyone plays their part well, together we can hand over our forthcoming generations a litter-free healthy planet.
As I mentioned, plastic pollution has already been a ticking bomb with pandemic litter adding on to it as stray bullets. The absolute need of the moment is to implement stringent measures to curb public pandemic littering by the concerned authorities locally, nationally, and globally.
Using fabric masks is an eco-friendly resource for non-healthcare workers.
When authorities banned restaurants from receiving visitors at the beginning of the pandemic, delivery services experienced a real boom, resulting in an increase in non-recyclable packaging waste. The requirement to pack vegetables in supermarkets was almost the most controversial, as scientific studies have shown that the virus survives the longest on a plastic surface.
Lack of communication with the population and the retail sector has led to a reversal in the trend of reducing waste to the opposite desire to buy only what has individual packaging, Rubryka states.
How to stop the plastic pandemic?
After analyzing the data collected, activists have developed several recommendations that will help reduce the amount of residual waste during a pandemic or similar emergency.
Supermarkets, restaurants and other catering establishments are recommended to follow the following tips:
Allow and encourage the use of reusable utensils. With thorough washing, even by hand, such utensils remain entirely safe for users, and waste is not produced.
Allow the sale of food without packaging. According to the results of many studies, there are a lot of prints on the packaging in which the food is wrapped. Before this package reaches the user, it can be touched by many people, and since the virus lives on plastic for almost the longest time, it makes no sense to pack food and create even more garbage.
Encourage visitors to use their own packaging. When a person orders coffee in his own cup, the chances of transmitting the virus are significantly reduced. Disposable cups can lie in the open for a long time and go through many hands, which makes them more dangerous than an environmentally friendly alternative.
Local authorities who want to reduce the impact on the environment during quarantine are recommended the following steps:
Ensure uninterrupted collection of organic waste from business and the population and establish and/or improve the collection of secondary raw materials from business and the people.
Improve the collection of data on solid waste (MSW) generated in the city, in particular for the volume and mass of waste generated by waste generators: separately from the population and business; data on collected secondary raw materials by fractions; morphological composition of MSW from different generators, etc.; and ensure the openness of this data.
Ensure uninterrupted operation of recycling points. People in such points have minimal contact, and their closure hurts the overall waste management system.
Expand the general infrastructure for separate collection of household, bulky and hazardous waste. If there is a well-functioning system in the cities with individual tanks for each house, even a pandemic will not cause any problems.
Conduct information campaigns for residents of cities and towns. The more people are aware of the problem of waste, the greater the result will be achieved. And if emergencies like a pandemic make adjustments to the waste management system, well-established communication will help to adapt more effectively to new circumstances.
As for personal protective equipment – both restaurants and local authorities, and each of us can do better for the environment if you follow these tips:
Use reusable masks in the absence of symptoms of SARS. This does not mean that the same mask you received in March 2020 can still be worn. But instead of using a new mask every day, you can wear several fabric masks and regularly disinfect them.
Do not use disposable gloves. Instead, you should wash or disinfect your hands more often and not pull your hands to your face (which, by the way, should not be done in gloves). The chance of contracting the virus does not increase, and the amount of waste produced decreases.
Dispose of personal protective equipment as ordinary waste. Unfortunately, nothing better can be done at the moment. By tying the masks tightly in a bag and waiting a few days, you will reduce the possibility of the virus spreading from the surfaces of these tools to almost zero, and you will know for sure that no one will reuse them.
What to do at the household level?
Medical waste is the same time bomb as the spread of plastic or climate change. Therefore, it should be given no less attention, and using the conditions of quarantine, everyone can take a few simple steps on a personal level:
- Limit the use of disposable masks and the purchase of medicines to the required size.
- Unnecessary but suitable medicines can be given to others through thematic forums and websites.
- Try to find outlets for expired drugs and medical waste in your city.
If there is no such item, Ruryka advices do the following:
- Prior to disposal, pack medical waste tightly and securely to prevent it from entering the environment.
- Grind old medicines and mix them with the ground/anything so that wild animals do not eat them.
· Pack syringes and other sharp objects in solid containers to not endanger workers’ health in landfills and recycling facilities.