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COVID-19 Face Masks & Marine Pollution

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The beginning of serious ocean pollution has been traced back to the 1960s since it was around this time that plastic became a more commonly used organic material in consumerism. As time goes on, we have witnessed the increasing detrimental effects of plastic ocean pollution; the worst being, of course, the effect on marine life and contribution to global warming. 

As we started to learn more about what plastic was doing to our oceans and began making strides in decreasing consumption, the world was rocked by the 2020 Covid Pandemic. In order to keep ourselves and others safe, the daily use of face masks suddenly became a societal norm, a practice still used to this day. Although the masks are a necessity as the pandemic rages on, we are now faced with a new, unprecedented problem: face mask pollution.

So how big of a problem is the littering of face masks? And how will the oceans be affected by it?

Face Mask Ocean Pollution Stats

To put it simply: face mask pollution ocean is a huge problem. The most commonly used face masks, surgical face masks, contain plastic, which sets society back in our mission to decrease the use of plastic in everyday life. In a report published by OceansAsia at the end of 2020, an estimated 1.56 billion face masks have been deposited into our oceans. As if that statistic wasn’t horrifying enough, this face mask pollution resulted in an estimated 4,680-6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic pollution, a fraction of the 8 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic that enter the oceans every year. These face masks can take up to 450 years to break down.

Used Face Masks Polluting California

The California coast stretches up to 600 miles; due to carelessness and wind along the coast, that is 600 miles of opportunity for face mask pollution. According to a study from the Environmental Science & Technology journal, a large portion of masks end up in the oceans and has become a significant contributing factor to the climate change crisis and endangerment of marine animals. This unfortunate fact has put California, a state extremely proactive in legislation regarding reduction in plastic pollution, in a tough place as there isn’t an end to daily use of face masks in sight.

Ocean Pollution Prevention During Covid

Although these staggering statistics are enough to make anybody spiral, the good news is that there is hope. The first step to igniting change is to become informed on the impact of what something as seemingly harmless as a face mask blowing in the wind can actually have on our oceans. The next step is to take action on a daily basis. 

  1. Opt for reusable cloth face masks over plastic surgical face masks.
  2. Before throwing face masks away, cut the straps or ear loops to prevent animals from getting tangled.
  3. Properly discard surgical face masks in a garbage can with a lid and a garbage bag with ties so that the mask can’t fly away. 
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