While many of us have become accustomed to wearing face masks, the use of disposable and single-use masks are adding yet another damaging intrusion into the homes of our native wildlife. Around the world, masks have begun to litter streets, beaches and oceans, causing harm to animals that come into contact with them - either by becoming tangled in the ear loops or ingesting them.
Since the beginning of the global pandemic earlier this year, an estimated 200 billion disposable face masks and plastic gloves have been disposed of and entered into the environment - on top of the already alarming number of plastic entering our oceans and landfills each and every day. Conservationists have since warned that the pandemic could spark a surge in ocean pollution.
Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre, a French non-profit, wrote to social media alongside a video of a dive showing algae-entangled masks and gloves: "Soon we’ll run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean. With all the alternatives, plastic isn’t the solution ... That’s the message."
RELATED: How To Wash Your Reusable Face Mask Properly
Energy Live News reported that in Hong Kong used face masks had started to pile up on beaches and nature trails, while cities in the US continue to tweet photos of public crews sweeping up discarded masks and gloves from the streets.
It's especially concerning considering most disposable masks are made up of polypropylene, a plastic that doesn’t break down quickly and has been known to leach toxins as it decomposes. "This plastic does not disappear but rather slowly breaks down into micro-plastic, which enters food chains, with devastating effect," says Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research at OceansAsia.
What Is The Best Way To Dispose Of Face Masks?
If you are wearing a single-use face mask, make sure to dispose of it properly. For one, never litter it on the ground and try not to throw it away either. When throwing away your face mask, snip the ear loops in half with a pair of scissors. This way, even if it does happen to cross paths with wildlife it won't cause tangling.
If you're a medical professional, the ability to cut a disposable face mask several times a day may not be possible. In this case, rip the mask in half. If you are unable to tear the single-use mask, dispose of it in a place where it will be securely tied up and out of reach from animals.
Finally, shop for reusable face masks to cut down on the use of plastic. Here is our list of the best in Australia (that give back to both migrant and Indigenous communities with every purchase).