Coronavirus Waste Could Increase Plastic Pollution in Oceans
The current coronavirus pandemic could lead to an upsurge in ocean pollution, adding to an excess of plastic waste that already endangers life in the oceans. The disposable masks and latex gloves are floating like jellyfish, scattered across the oceans.
The conservationists are worried that the pandemic could create a surplus of plastic waste, which will not only burden the landfills, but the marine life will also be polluted as well. Divers have been discovering dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizers beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, mixed in with the usual waste of disposable cups and aluminum cans.
While the quantities of masks and gloves found were far from vast, the discovery indicates a new kind of pollution, one that is set to become ubiquitous after millions around the world turned to single-use plastics to fight the coronavirus.
Beaches on the French Côte d’Azur like Cannes or St. Tropez are littered with discarded masks and gloves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The non-profit organization Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea) has been discovering discarded PPE in their sea cleanup operations. The founder of the organization, and also a diver, Laurent Lombard shared his views on the situation through a Facebook post.
According to Lombard, soon there may be more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea, as the pandemic situation is nowhere to be averted and the waste could escalate rapidly.
But French beaches are not the only place where coronavirus waste has been spotted. Reportedly, Hong Kong-based organization OceansAsia had found masses of surgical masks washing up on the shoreline in the Soko Islands, in late February.
Although, using masks is an essential move to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, having a population of 7 million people wear one to two masks per day is bound to increase the amount of waste generated.
According to a recent study published in the Environment, Science & Technology journal, an estimated 129 billion face masks, and 65 billion gloves are being used each month.
A senior director at the non-profit organization Ocean Conservancy, Nick Mallos said,
In many places around the world the basic waste collection does not exist to manage that volume of waste, so unfortunately, we are likely to see that waste finding its way downstream on beaches and in the ocean.
He further added that the numbers are staggering as evidence of PPE littering roadways, washing down waterways keep emerging in the United States, in the EU, and all around across the globe. When discarded PPE items, such as masks and gloves, end up in the ocean, species like seabirds and sea turtles become entangled in them and ingest them, leading to death.
We know that sea turtles often feed on things like plastic bags and balloons that are in the marine environment, so it’s quite likely that we will see a similar type of feeding behavior.
Mallos emphasized that it is important to follow public health guidelines around the use of PPE, while opting for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products. Reusing containers and bags where possible is yet another way to reduce plastic waste.
Recently, a statement was signed by over 100 scientists from around the world, and environmental protection groups like Greenpeace USA, which says that reusable products can be safely used by employing basic hygiene, like washing them properly.
This movement could generate more awareness about the importance of proper waste management and of making environmentally conscious decisions. Though, coronavirus waste in oceans poses a great threat to the oceanic inhabitants.