Billions of masks have been dumped in the oceans since start of pandemic and no one seems to mind
Following the start of the pandemic, governments around the world quickly mandated the use of face disposable masks in public spaces.
This led to a massive demand shock, prompting factories to begin producing disposable masks at full capacity. The majority of these masks were produced in China, and in April 2020, the country reported a staggering daily production figure of 450 million masks. Of the estimated 52 billion masks manufactured globally in 2020, it's believed 1.56 billion will were dumped in the oceans in 2020 alone, resulting in an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic pollution according to a recent study by OceansAsia. Waste from throwaway masks created a mass of plastic waste around 7 per cent of the size of the Great Garbage Plastic Patch. Despite their single-use nature, disposable masks are expected to take more than four centuries to decompose while in the ocean. Here’s how this compares to other items we use on a day-to-day basis.
“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it’s very difficult to move," said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, director of research for OceansAsia. Masks are made with polypropylene, which Bondaroff describes as thin fibers of plastic. These tiny pieces of plastic can remain in the ocean for hundreds of years, threatening fish and even polluting the air.
"The fact that we are starting to find masks that are breaking up indicates that this is a real problem, that microplastics are being produced by masks. The 1.56 billion face masks that have entered our oceans in 2020 are there for the long run. They will remain in the ocean for 450 years or more, and they’ll break into smaller pieces.” he added.
Single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection. They enter oceans when they are littered, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste. “Marine plastic pollution is devastating our oceans,” says Gary Stokes, Operations Director of OceansAsia. “Plastic pollution kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates and other animals each year. It also negatively impacts fisheries and the tourism industry, and costs the global economy an estimated $13 billion USD per year.” he added. The mask plastic pollution represents a small percentage of the overall plastic pollution which enters our oceans and rivers on a yearly basis, with most of it coming from China which is the world's greatest polluter, however it represents a very serious and growing problem to marine life and ecosystems.
Incredibly enough, this massive plastic pollution that is threatening marine wildlife has gone almost completely unnoticed by the main stream media or even by most green activists groups and political parties. It would appear that massive marine plastic pollution which is caused by masks and other PPE, does not concern them as plastic pollution that is caused by plastic straws and other disposable plastics. The very same people and media who were engaged in a hysterical campaign to ban plastic straws just a short while ago, seem perfectly at ease if what causes sea turtels and other marine animals to suffocate are plastic masks and not straws.