Face masks are a ‘ticking plastic bomb’: Three MILLION coverings are thrown out every minute and serve as carriers for other toxicants in the environment, experts warn
Three million face masks are discarded every minute as a result of mass adoption during the pandemic, and experts warn it could soon lead to environmental catastrophe.
Face coverings are being worn by the majority of individuals around the world in order to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes Covid-19.
However, they pose a greater risk to the environment than carrier bags because of their ubiquity and the fact there is no way to safely decontaminate and recycle them.
In an article by the University of Southern Denmark, experts call the huge amount of face masks being worn and thrown away a ‘ticking time bomb’.
They add that littering is causing masks to break down into dangerous microfibres and they may also be carrying harmful chemicals into the environment.
Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu from the University of Southern Denmark and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Zhiyong Jason Ren from Princeton University penned an article on the topic in the journal .
And the conundrum of what to do with the recent deluge of masks truly is a new frontier for scientists, who have never before been faced with such a rapid explosion of a product for which there is no established responsible disposal method.
‘With increasing reports on inappropriate disposal of masks, it is urgent to recognise this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem,’ the researchers warn.
Disposable face masks, although excellent at reducing viral transmission, are tricky when it comes to recycling as they are made from many different materials.
‘The common disposable surgical masks are made of three layers,’ the researchers explain.
‘The outer layer is made up of nonabsorbent material (e.g., polyester) that protects against liquid splashes.
‘The middle layer is non-woven fabrics (e. g., polypropylene and polystyrene) created using a meltblowing process, which prevents droplets and aerosols via an electrostatic effect.
‘The inner layer is made of absorbent material like cotton to absorb vapour.’
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