COVID-19: How disposable mask could be the next biggest hazard?

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Updated: November 26, 2020 9:01 PM

Disposable masks contain polypropylene – a form of plastic – and therefore it could be the next biggest environmental hazard.

disposable maskGlobal sales of disposable face masks this year will be worth USD 166 billion. (Photo source: Reuters)

COVID-19 is a relatively new disease and scientists across the world are working on war footing to find a vaccine that can save lives. Till then the only way to keep yourself and others safe from the coronavirus infection is to follow norms of social distancing and use face masks. There is evidence to show that optimal use of masks can curb the spread of the disease. So wearing masks is a good thing, particularly when the cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections continue to rise unabated in several parts of the world.

Ever since the pandemic has begun, there has been an increased need to maintain hygiene and mask has become a pivotal part of our lives. Since the breakdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in the demand of the face mask. But we seem to be not bothered about an unfortunate side effect of wearing face masks, in particular, disposable masks.

According to Kapil Bhatia, CEO of UniMask, such masks contain polypropylene – a form of plastic – and therefore it could be the next biggest environmental hazard.

“A disposable mask is a mask which cannot be washed or reused. These masks are meant for single-use and are disposed off after one use. These masks do not lend themselves to reuse because they work by trapping harmful particles inside the mesh of fibers of which they are made off. The most frequently used material to make the disposable mask is polypropylene, either 20 or 25 gsm (grams per square meter) in density,” Bhatia said.

As per a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), global sales of disposable face masks this year will be worth USD 166 billion. This would be much more than sales in 2019 which was around USD 800 million. According to UCTAD, 75 per cent of the estimated mask could end up in landfills or the sea.

“Marine plastic pollution is a serious problem. It is estimated that every year, over eight million tons of plastic enter our oceans. As polypropylene slowly breaks down into micro-plastic it enters food chains, with devastating effect. As the pandemic is likely to drag on, we should address these plastic pollution issues immediately,” the Unimask CEO said

Frontline COVID-19 warriors and people employed in the essential services have relied on plastic-based, single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gowns to shield themselves from the coronavirus. This has resulted in a mountain of plastic waste which continues to grow with each passing day.

While the frontline health workers have no option but to use disposal masks and PPE Kits, the least that we can do to help them and help us, is eliminate the use of disposable masks from our lives.

If more than 90 per cent of the population resorts to using reusable masks, leaving it to be used only by the frontline health workers, what we are looking at then in the near future is a controllable issue and not an uncontrollable one, Bhatia opined.

So, there are certain things that one should keep in mind while buying a mask. The material, comfort, layers offered are the foremost features one should look for while buying a face mask. To be effective these masks should cover your nose, mouth, and chin and are secured with elastic loops or ties, including multiple layers, washable and reusable. The material must be skin-friendly and fits exactly to one’s face.

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