The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in single-use protective masks, generating more healthcare waste. Surgical masks are not made of paper, but polypropylene, which is part of the thermoplastic family. If not properly discarded, they may worsen the marine litter crisis.
A mask thrown away on the street will most probably make its way to marine waters through sewers and rivers, adding to the millions of tonnes of debris floating on the surface of the ocean. Over time, it will break down into microplastics that are likely to get ingested by fish and other sea animals. Ultimately, plastic masks could take up to 450 years to degrade and completely disappear from the environment.
Plastic masks must not be thrown into the wild, nor in regular bins. Improper treatment and disposal of hazardous healthcare waste poses a serious threat of secondary disease transmission, especially to waste and health workers. Protective masks should be visibly collected in containers set up for proper disposal.
WFO promotes good environmental behaviour and worldwide anti-litter regulations to ensure no waste ends up in our oceans. WFO encourages consumers to take care of nature and transition from a throw-away culture to a responsible and environmental anti-litter behaviour, by placing all waste in the proper waste bins.