Over one billion of the 52 billion masks produced in 2020 will pollute the world’s oceans, warns a report published by an environmental group in Hong Kong.
OceansAsia says the masks will contaminate oceans with plastic and harm already vulnerable marine wildlife.
“Single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection,” OceansAsia’s report says.
“These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded. They travel out to sea when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste.”
The report estimates nearly 7,000 tonnes of plastic could pollute the ocean and may take roughly 450 years to break down.
“This plastic does not ‘go away’, but rather accumulates, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces. Annually, it is estimated that marine plastic pollution kills 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates, and other marine life,” the report says.
“Plastic pollution also profoundly impacts coastal communities, fisheries, and economies.”
The report notes that mask-microplastics are already entering the food chain. When consumed by ocean creatures that form part of the human diet, these plastics will sooner or later be ingested by humans.
To prevent ocean pollution, OceansAsia suggests wearing reusable, washable cloth masks if possible.