Will coronavirus face masks be the following ‘plastic downside?’ 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 grow to be an vital device up to now 12 months that has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they’re needed and helpful, face masks — specifically the disposable form which are manufactured from plastic microfibers — might be contributing to the world’s ongoing plastic downside, suggests new analysis. 

Almost 130 billion face masks are used globally every month, translating to about 3 million a minute, in keeping with latest research. However 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 menace and stop it from turning into the following plastic downside,” say researchers from the College of Southern Denmark and Princeton College, in a brand new research. 

In a research lately 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 downside with some 43 billion bottles produced worldwide every month. 


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

“When not correctly collected and managed, masks will be transported from land into freshwater and marine environments by floor run-off, river flows, oceanic currents, wind, and animals (by way of entanglement or ingestion). The incidence of waste masks has been more and more reported in several 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, similar to bisphenol A, heavy metals, in addition to pathogenic micro-organisms.”

“Furthermore,” they wrote, “the uptake of small plastic particles is thought to trigger hostile well being results by three important potential 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 baggage. 

“A more moderen and larger concern is that the masks are straight comprised of microsized plastic fibers (thickness of ~1 to 10 mm). When breaking down within the surroundings, the masks might launch extra micro-sized plastics, simpler and sooner than bulk plastics like plastic baggage,” they wrote, including that such impacts “will 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.”

“Nonetheless, they famous, “no knowledge on masks degradation in nature exists, so we merely have no idea how masks contribute to the big variety of plastic particles detected within the surroundings.”

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

“These might pose oblique hostile impacts on vegetation, animals and people,” mentioned Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu from the College of Southern Denmark and one of many research’s authors, in an announcement.


To guard the surroundings from the risks of disposable face masks, the researchers supplied the 4 following ideas: 

  • Arrange mask-only trash cans for assortment and disposal
  • Think about standardization, pointers, and strict implementation of waste administration for masks wastes
  • Exchange disposable masks with reusable face masks like cotton masks
  • Think about growth of biodegradable disposal masks

“It’s crucial to launch coordinated efforts from environmental scientists, medical companies, and stable waste managing organizations, and most of the people to attenuate the detrimental impacts of disposal masks, and ultimately stop it from turning into one other too-big-to deal with downside,” the research authors concluded. 

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