How should we dispose of face masks?

Face masks have become part of our daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are made from plastics and designed to be used just once, which means thousands of tonnes of extra waste going to landfills.

Can anyone image the amount of waste that has been generated since the beginning of the pandemic and how the used masks have been disposed of?

The question to ask is: “Are we thinking about how to dispose of the tonnes of used face masks so that they do not become another environmental nightmare?

What we do know is that we are disposing of the used face masks the same way we dispose of other waste in our homes and offices. That is the same way we indiscriminately dispose of plastic bags everywhere, which has become an environmental nightmare the world is grappling with.

As a matter of fact, masks may help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But, if everyone in the country wears a single-use mask each day for a year, can you imagine how many tonnes of contaminated waste that we would have made and are we prepared for its disposal?

Experts suggest masks may be a source of harmful micro-plastic fibres on land and in waterways. So, it is important for us to look at how used face masks are disposed of in order to cause minimal harm to the environment.

Globally, China is the world’s biggest face mask manufacturer. Its daily output is reportedly have reached 116 million units this month (February 2021). That creates a big waste management problem around the world.

Locally, Environmental Health experts have already started ringing the alarm bells of the indiscriminate disposal of the used masks and the dangers ahead.

“It is dangerous to indiscriminately dispose of used nose masks in the country. We must bury them because the surgical ones are bio-degradable, thus best buried to avoid endangering mammals and marine lives, an Environmental Analyst  at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Madam Florence Kuukyi, has said 

She was quoted by the media as saying, “Used nose masks are clinical wastes, so they have to be disposed of appropriately and not to be left on the bare floor. The best way is to fold the mask and tie it before disposing it in a bin or burying it,” she said

 According to her, indiscriminate disposal of nose masks could lead to infections of mammals that get into contact with them and marine lives, when the used nose masks end up in the sea.

She also cautioned against burning of used nose masks, saying, the practice would pollute the atmosphere.

 It is without doubt that disposal of nose masks has become an environmental threat and a challenge and the only way to deal with it is through concerted efforts from stakeholders to manage and adress the phenomenon.

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