During the COVID-19 pandemic and now the new emerging Omnicron we are all urged to wear a face mask in public areas. However, the impact of discarded single-use face masks has a dramatic effect on the environment which may well lead to a global, hazardous threat to our oceans and health. According to the maths, this could mean 7.2 billion humans X 1 reusable mask equals 7.2 billion masks! Ok, now not all of us wear masks and some of us wear reusable masks, however, these people represent a much smaller part of the total of those wearing masks…. A reusable mask does the job for only 4 hours approximately, meaning that one individual may wear a mask no more than a couple of times in twenty four hours. As most of the world population seeks to protect themselves by wearing a mask, (probably the disposable kind which is cheaper and easier to manufacture and therefore more readily available), how long before these masks massively pollute the oceans.
We should, therefore, urge people to buy, make, and learn to use reusable face masks.
Today I walked around my community I caught sight of a nest in a tree and what apparently appeared to be a face mask that had been used to construct or perhaps blown onto a poor bird’s nest. It was dangling in the breeze and I imagined the future baby chicks taking toxic nibbles from it…..
The environmental impact on birds, mammals and all marine life is heart breaking. So many masks will finish either ingested or entangled around a bird, fish or turtle’s neck. An elastic band alone can cause fatal damage.
Furthermore, the components of the face mask, as it slowly degrades, will release
micro fibers of polypropylene. Such polypropylene is very slow to break down and like an eggshell, it becomes brittle with time. The resulting brittle particles will scatter across the oceans and be ingested by the fish we eat. Once ingested, these particles become invisible to the naked eye and the chemical components are absorbed by humans. This results in many serious health problems for mankind, for example, cancer. We are all gravely impacted by this pollution.
A rough estimation of 100’000 marine mammals and more than eight million birds are killed each year due to plastic. They are either poisoned from the toxins released from the plastic, or starved to death by plastic obstructing their digestive tracts. Let us also not forget the deaths by strangulations and entanglements.
We have beautiful mangroves in the UAE. Mangroves are home to many juvenile fish and mammals who make these shallow waters their nursery, as well as being home to many species of birds.
Already at risk, these mangroves represent only 1 percent of tropical coastal ecosystems and yet we are completely unaware that they are our number one ally against climate change and pollution.
They absorb and stock carbon 2 to 3 more times than the rainforest. They are now, more than ever, at risk due to the reckless disposal of protective gloves and masks. We have to stay safe from the virus but we also have to stay safe by protecting our environment. There is a real need to educate humans so that they are made aware that waste in any form must be disposed of correctly and in an environmentally friendly manner.
There is no exact data on the number of human casualties resulting from plastic toxins, however, studies have shown the poisonous effect on the human endocrinian and central nervous system. Complications may take the form of hormonal imbalance, birth defects as well as lymphatic and brain cancers etc. Be aware, respect the environment and stay safe.