Approximately 1.5 billion face masks are expected to be dumped into the sea in just one year, according to an environmental group monitoring the level of pollution in the world’s oceans.
A report by OceansAsia concluded that the vast number of disposable masks will further contaminate the oceans with harmful plastic and damage vulnerable marine ecosystems.
“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 emphasises.
“These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste,” the report adds.
The report urges that evidence has already emerged of animals being killed by the masks.
Marine conservation organization, Instituto Argonauta reported that a penguin was found dead on a Brazilian beach in September with a mask tangled inside its stomach.
“The consequences of the large number of people who frequented the beaches of the North Coast of São Paulo on the extended holiday of September 7 may have cost the life of a Magellan penguin, whose cause of death is linked to a mask that was found inside his stomach,” the group reported.
The masks will contribute an estimated 7,000 tons of plastic to the oceans which are thought to already contain 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic, and 46,000 larger pieces in every square mile of water.
The plastic in the oceans weighs up to 269,000 tonnes, and every day around 8 million pieces of plastic are added.
The figures reveal a massively horrendous environmental catastrophe on a global level.
OceansAsia estimates that the masks will take 450 years to break down completely.
“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 urges.
“Plastic pollution also profoundly impacts coastal communities, fisheries, and economies. Conservative estimates suggest that it could cost the global economy $13 billion USD per year,