How to Manage Your Used Facial Masks

 

One of the biggest problems that developed in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic is the disposal of used facial masks.

People who use fabric coverings typically take their protective item home to wash it for reuse. It is the disposable masks that don’t receive the same consideration. Many are leaving them on the ground at the end of the day, leaving potentially infectious litter around for someone else to clean up.

You can find these masks at the beach, on the sidewalk, or in parking lots. Although the odds of catching COVID from one are minimal, there are environmental consequences to consider. 

Used disposable masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment cannot get recycled. When they become litter, several problems may develop.

1. More Trash in the Ocean

Disposable masks aren’t necessarily worse than any other form of litter for the environment. Wildlife could mistake the product as a food source. Heavy precipitation could send it through wastewater systems to the oceans, rivers, and streams. You can see them on public transportation, in the streets, and everywhere else, posing an ecosystem risk.

2. Additional Plastic Pollution

Microplastics are already a problem for our oceans. Many marine species have this pollutant in their digestive system when studied. It starts at the bottom of the food chain and moves its way up, including humans, who eventually eat it. A study from the University College London found that if each person wore a new disposable mask daily, over 120,000 metric tons of plastic waste would need to get managed.

3. Viral Transmission Risks

The half-life of the new coronavirus is an estimated seven hours on solid plastic. Experts believe it could be significantly less than that on a mask because of the personal protective equipment’s porous nature. When sunlight exposure is part of the recipe, survival for a significant time is unlikely. If an infected mask were to be dropped overnight or left in a shaded area, the results might be different. You’d still need to transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth, but the increased risk is still present.

The best way to manage your used facial masks is to throw them away when finished with it. That means putting the item in a trash can. If one isn’t available when you’re ready to remove it, consider bringing a small plastic bag with you to manage the disposal.

When you wash fabric reusable masks, try to use hot water whenever possible. The coronavirus is not the only contaminant that could be on the material’s surface. When the world starts managing the influenza season with COVID simultaneously, maintaining these best practices will be essential for good health.

The overall answer is simple. We don’t want a new public health crisis because of the environmental problems leftover from improperly disposed of masks. When you are ready to call it a day, throw your PPE away. You’ll protect yourself, others, and the world with that one simple action.

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