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Face Masks & The Impact on the Environment

These days, wearing a mask has become commonplace and mandatory. Here in Simcoe County, you will get turned away from an establishment if you aren’t wearing a mask, unless if it’s for a legitimate reason. Before leaving your car to go into a grocery store, you check to make sure you have four things:

  1. Wallet
  2. Phone
  3. Keys
  4. Face mask

Strange times we live in, absolutely. But, wearing a mask is important in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

When you get back to your car after your grocery shopping, what do you do with your mask? Hopefully, if it’s a disposable mask, you throw it out properly.

If you’ve been out and about recently, you’ve likely seen at least one disposable mask littered on the ground in a parking lot or on the sidewalk, which therein lies the growing concern.

Unsurprisingly, the use of face masks has grown substantially, which also raises the question of how this will impact the environment. While this question may not be at the forefront of people’s minds during a global pandemic, it is an important consideration for the future.

face mask environmental impact

The Concern

Disposable masks are made to last, which is beneficial in terms of our safety but not in terms of the environment. Most protective masks are made from long-lasting plastic materials, which can survive in the environment for decades to hundreds of years.

Initially, discarding masks incorrectly may risk spreading the virus to waste collectors or members of the public who come across the discarded mask. In some cases, the virus can last on plastic surfaces for a week. Over the medium to long-term, the plastic can cause animals to choke, get entangled in the masks and can smother plants and ecosystems. Even a single mask can produce millions of particles that can potentially carry bacteria and chemicals up the food chain..

An abundance of masks, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer bottles and other COVID-19 related waste are already showing up on beaches and in the ocean. During a recent survey trip, OceanAsia found a growing number of masks washed up on Soko Islands, a small cluster off the coast of Hong Kong.

To add on top of this, 8 million tonnes of plastic already enter our oceans each year. And that’s just on top of the already 150 million tonnes that circulate our marine environments.

What Can Be Done

To negate the impact on the environment, there are things we can do, such as choose to wear a reusable mask over a disposable mask or if you wear a disposable mask, throw it out properly.

According to the World Health Organization, face masks must be thrown only into lidded bins. Cut the straps of the mask before disposing of the mask so that animals won’t get entangled in the straps. However, reusable, washable masks are the most environmentally friendly option.

Georgian Waste Services is a family owned and operated waste management company based out of Utopia, Ontario. We care about the environment and our employees strive to carefully handle all material;s that are brought into our facility.

If you have any questions about our services, feel free to reach out to us online or give us a call at 705.424.0082. 

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