have become mandatory or strongly recommended in much of the world, in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Although the recommendations have been controversial in some areas due to low supplies, the masks have proven to work, but unfortunately, these new accessories have given people a new item to discard.
In addition to cigarette butts, empty bottles and discarded food packages, rubber gloves and surgical masks are now spread across many city streets. Items discarded on the street can easily be taken to sewers during storms and eventually end up in the ocean or other waterways. Surgical masks and gloves can be especially harmful to the environment, because they are usually made of non-biodegradable fabrics and plastics and have attractive colors for marine animals.
In Asia, people have widely used masks and gloves for a few months, conservation groups have reported that these items are already reaching waterways and nearby oceans. In February, conservation group OceanAsia published photos they took of Hong Kong's beaches, surgical gloves and masks were scattered across the sand and floating in the water.
OceanAsia co-founder Gary Stokes told The Independent that he expects these items to be found inside dead sea animals in the near future.
“The way I see these masks in the environment is just another addition to the growing marine debris crisis that our oceans are facing. Neither better nor worse, it simply shouldn't be there in the first place. I am waiting to hear the first autopsy that finds masks inside a dead sea animal. It's not a question of if, but when, ”said Stokes.
Environmentalists in the United States have noticed a similar trend, as the use of masks and gloves remains more common in the country. Maria Algarra, the founder of the Miami environmental group “Clean This Beach Up”, started a hashtag campaign called #TheGloveChallenge, she encouraged people to take photos of discarded gloves and masks to illustrate how much of a widespread problem this garbage is.
Algarra says he received almost 2,000 photos of discarded gloves and masks around the world. In some cases, people came to help and clean up the discarded items, but Algarra advised his supporters to pick up the items only if they have personal protective equipment.
“With the challenge of gloves, it's about education. This is the key to doing better as a community and as humans. We can't expect people to change their attitude if they don't know what they're doing wrong. The plastic decomposes into smaller and smaller pieces until the microplastic is every. It is toxic and it is in what we are eating and drinking. There is no way to clean microplastics. After the garbage reaches the ocean and breaks into smaller pieces, it is almost impossible to remove it ”, said Algarra.