[I had a bad cold when I recorded this, so apologies for sounding a bit weird at times!]
Scope of the Problem
Microplastics pose a significant global problem for our oceans and environment. Scientists have known this for over a half century. The impact of continued use of disposable face masks at alarming rates due to the current pandemic and the possibility of future pandemics as well as air pollution will be costly to our society, marine life, environment and the health of humans (Williams and Rangel-Butrago, 2019).
No one would choose to eat a mixture of formaldehyde and phenol (plastic). Yet, anyone that eats fish and other seafood is at risk of doing just that with the increase of marine litter in the past and what seems to be an overwhelming issue going into the future unless people decrease the amount of plastic that they use and dispose of (Ford, 2020).
U.N. Sustainable Development Global Goals
In 2015, leaders from around the world determined that 17 Global Goals were needed to “create a better world by 2030.” These goals are called, “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).” My concern for where disposable face masks end up has driven my global initiative project, which falls within 2 of these goals.
Marine pollution affects more than our marine life. It affects humans in several different ways; our physical health and our mental health. When it litters our beaches and other waterways, it affects our ability for recreational activities as well as our coastal regions for tourism. No one wants to relax on a dirty beach.
I sat down with Brittany Dodge, Master Naturalist and U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner and asked her three questions:
Carly – “What are ways people in coastal Georgia can help prevent masks and other plastics from getting into our waterways and oceans?”
Brittany – “The main thing they can do is use reusable masks, ones that are made from already recycled materials. If they have to use the plastic masks they can cut the ear strings. That will help prevent wildlife from getting tangled in it. Another thing to be careful with is to make sure that your trash is secure and that it doesn’t go floating down the highway. Things from the highway ultimately end up in the ocean.”
Carly – “What happens when sea life ingest the small microparticles of plastic from items such as facemasks?”
Brittany – “As plastic breaks down, it never completely goes away. It just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. The animals ingest those pieces. Even tiny little pieces, even though it doesn’t kill them it gets into their body and eventually goes down the food chain and bigger predators can get those plastics into their systems. Ultimately, we can ingest them from things like fish.”
Carly – “Why are turtles and other sea animals attracted to the plastic in the ocean?”
Brittany – “Because masks particularly and plastic bags when they are floating in the water look a lot like jellyfish and a lot of animals including sea turtles eat those jellyfish. Another reason is that different algae and bacteria can be attracted to plastic and grow on it and so animals that ingest algae and bacteria will eat those microparticles as well.”
Follow the CDC guidelines for wearing face masks.
If you can social distance or are at an outdoor venue, a reusable face mask made from cloth or even microplastics such as lycra should be sufficient.
If you must wear a disposable mask, put it in a ziploc bag sealed after you have cut the ear pieces off and then put it in your regular trash bin.
What I would like to see as a big future initiative…
Further research into where America’s trash goes: What initiatives is the U.S. Government doing now in regards to the sustainability of plastic that ends up as trash?
How can you help? (Call to action/Request for feedback)
- Educate people around you that disposable face masks are not paper and will not decompose in a landfill in our lifetime.
- Sponsor a park or beach clean up project in your community.
- Wear face masks responsibly and try to use reusable or sustainable masks when possible. Here is a great one I found…
Marie Bee Bloom: Home (Visit this link to buy your sustainable mask)
- Find companies that are coming up with ways to reuse microplastics. For example: Lasso Loop
- Add a link in the Comments section to any alternative reusable and sustainable face masks that you have found.
Click here for Google Doc to my list of Resources