COVID Facemasks and Marine Plastic Pollution

It’s estimated that approximately 1.56 billion masks entered our ocean waters in 2020, affecting marine life as well as our own food supply, according to a recent report released by OceanAsia. These masks will take as long as 450 years to break down, slowly turning into micro plastics which negatively impact marine wildlife and ecosystems.

“Used correctly PPE saves lives; disposed of incorrectly it kills marine life,” said Cindy Zipf, the group’s executive director. “PPE litter is a gross result of the pandemic, and 100% avoidable. Use PPE properly, then dispose of it properly in a trash can. It’s not hard and it’s the least we can do for this marvel of a planet we all live on, not to mention ourselves.”

According to the scientists at Ocean Asia, the materials used, particularly polypropylene has been found in wild fish as well as caught fish (the fish we eat). The materials used in disposable face masks does not break down easily. The masks are affecting and entangling marine wildlife and being consumed by our creatures of the sea, causing suffering, sickness and even death.

The challenge is that the public is using these masks and not disposing of them properly. Additionally, there are no guidelines for recycling masks. So what can we do?

The best options currently are to choose reusable fabric masks or eco-friendly disposable masks (there are brands that include return envelops for you to send used masks back to be recycled).

If you do use single use face masks, make sure you cut the loops and dispose of them properly. A mask thrown away on the street will most likely make its way to marine waters through sewers and rivers. Make sure you place masks in trash cans that have lids and a garbage bags with ties so the masks cannot blow away.