Discarded single-use face masks used to stop the spread of coronavirus could be causing significant harm to the environment.
Environmental group OceansAsia conducted a recent survey trip to the Soko’s islands in Hong Kong where it found masses of surgical masks washing up on the shoreline.
Gary Stokes, OceanAsia’s Founder, told Energy Live News: “We have found 70 discarded masks within 100 metres of the beach and an additional 30 masks when we returned a week later. Over time the team has seen the odd mask here and now, however, this time they were all along the high tide line and foreshore with new arrivals coming in on the current. When you suddenly have a population of seven million people wearing one to two masks per day the amount of trash generated is going to be substantial.
“The masks were not that old, some almost looked brand new meaning they were not in the water long.”
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research at OceansAsia, told Energy Live News: “A mask that is ingested by a local turtle, pink dolphin or finless porpoise, for example, could easily become stuck in the digestive system of this animal, thereby killing it.
“Most of these masks contain or are made of polypropylene, which does not break down quickly. Marine plastic pollution is a serious problem. It is estimated that every year, over eight million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans. This plastic does not disappear but rather slowly breaks down into micro-plastic, which enters food chains, with devastating effect.
“Estimates suggest that more than 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and over a million sea birds are killed by marine plastic annually. Marine plastic adsorbs toxins, which results in it poisoning animals that accidentally ingest it.”
The firm notes people should consult with their local authorities to learn about the proper ways to dispose of surgical masks correctly and notes the surge in mask-based rubbish highlights “serious weaknesses in waste management and public education”.