The consumption of face masks was not so much before the COVID-19. A surgical mask is used by the medical staff in special conditions but soon after the COVID-19 introduction, doctors made a part of precautionary measure to use a face mask and maintain a social distance of 6 ft. As it is made mandatory, the demand for the face mask is also increased.  According to the world health organization, the US requires 89 M masks, the UK around 24.37 Billion masks per year. This huge number also requires energy to make the product. It is estimated that mask production consumes 10-30Wh energy and emit 59 g of CO2 –eq greenhouse gas in the environment

Further increased use of masks produces an increased amount of waste. It is thought that these masks fall in the category of hazardous waste, as a virus can easily spread if it is not properly disposed of. In another scenario, masks are also somehow not manufactured in a hygienic environment, which also causes the spread of disease.  

As the increase in demand of mask also create a tremendous amount of waste, which not only include the mask but also include the packing waste and air emissions which is a great challenge. The developing countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they don’t have proper methods of collection of plastic waste, which cause the ultimate disposal of mask in streets, open dumping or burning. Besides this, most of this type of waste is disposed of in rivers, seas, and forests where it impacts the aquatic as well as the fauna of the forest. The mask cause entanglement and causes death. It was reported that a bird died due to the wrapping of the face mask.  Mask can be mistaken as a food item for birds and animals which reduces their food intake and cause death.

The mask in the aquatic ecosystem becomes microplastic due to photodegradation or by erosion and fragmentation, which become the part of the aquatic ecosystem and impact the health of aquatic organisms mostly animals and cause death.

Thus, it is a dire need to control this waste source which is also impacting the already affected environment, and constructive efforts are needed to solve this problem in an environment-friendly way. The time is not ahead of where we would see more masks than fish in the oceans.

About the Author: Meraj Ahsan Qureshi is a young, motivated environmentalist and socialist, determined to raise the voice of the environment and to serve society.

Editor name: Madiha Razzaq