Will coronavirus face masks be the following ‘plastic drawback?’ New analysis suggests sure

Face masks used to forestall the unfold of the novel coronavirus in addition to defending your self from the lethal illness have change into an necessary instrument up to now 12 months that has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Though they’re crucial and helpful, face masks — specifically the disposable variety which are manufactured from plastic microfibers — might be contributing to the world’s ongoing plastic drawback, suggests new analysis. 

Nearly 130 billion face masks are used globally every month, translating to about 3 million a minute, based on current research. But with many of those masks being disposable and manufactured from plastic microfibers, and few to no pointers on masks recycling, “it’s pressing to acknowledge this potential environmental risk and stop it from turning into the following plastic drawback,” say researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and Princeton University, in a brand new research. 

In a research not too long ago printed within the journal Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering, researchers warned that disposable masks made with plastic microfibers “can’t be readily biodegraded however might fragment into smaller plastic particles, specifically micro-and nano plastics that widespread in ecosystems.”

The pandemic has ramped up the manufacturing of disposable masks, which the researchers say is now on the same scale as plastic bottles, a significant contributor to the world’s plastic drawback with some 43 billion bottles produced worldwide every month. 


However, there’s a key distinction between the 2: in contrast to plastic bottles — about 25% of which is recycled — “there isn’t any official steerage on masks recycle, making it extra prone to be disposed of as strong waste,” the researchers mentioned within the research. 

“When not correctly collected and managed, masks could be transported from land into freshwater and marine environments by floor run-off, river flows, oceanic currents, wind, and animals (through entanglement or ingestion). The prevalence of waste masks has been more and more reported in numerous environments and social media have shared of wildlife tangled in elastic straps of masks,” the researchers wrote within the research. “Like different plastic particles, disposable masks might accumulate and launch dangerous chemical and organic substances, equivalent to bisphenol A, heavy metals, in addition to pathogenic micro-organisms.”

“Moreover,” they wrote, “the uptake of small plastic particles is understood to trigger opposed well being results by three principal attainable means: particle toxicity, chemical toxicity, and pathogenic microorganism vectors.” 


The researchers continued by saying that disposable masks might even pose extra of a difficulty than plastic luggage. 

“A more moderen and larger concern is that the masks are straight constructed from microsized plastic fibers (thickness of ~1 to 10 mm). When breaking down within the atmosphere, the masks might launch extra micro-sized plastics, simpler and sooner than bulk plastics like plastic luggage,” they wrote, including that such impacts “could be worsened by a new-generation masks, nanomasks, which straight use nano-sized plastic fibers (e.g., diameter < 1 mm) and add a brand new supply of nanoplastic air pollution.”

“However, they famous, “no information on masks degradation in nature exists, so we merely have no idea how masks contribute to the massive variety of plastic particles detected within the atmosphere.”

That mentioned, the researchers pointed to issues that the disposable masks, not in contrast to different plastic particles, might accumulate and launch “dangerous chemical and organic substances,” equivalent to bisphenol A, heavy metals, and different pathogenic micro-organisms. 

“These might pose oblique opposed impacts on crops, animals and people,” mentioned Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu from the University of Southern Denmark and one of many research’s authors, in a press release.


To shield the atmosphere from the risks of disposable face masks, the researchers supplied the 4 following recommendations: 

  • Set up mask-only trash cans for assortment and disposal
  • Consider standardization, pointers, and strict implementation of waste administration for masks wastes
  • Replace disposable masks with reusable face masks like cotton masks
  • Consider growth of biodegradable disposal masks

“It is crucial to launch coordinated efforts from environmental scientists, medical businesses, and strong waste managing organizations, and most of the people to attenuate the adverse impacts of disposal masks, and ultimately forestall it from turning into one other too-big-to deal with drawback,” the research authors concluded. 

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