COVID Waste - Unmasking A New Threat To Our Planet

Earth wearing a face mask.

“More masks than jellyfish”, says an article published in The Guardian. According to the article, a group of divers found disposable masks and latex gloves, floating like jellyfish beneath the turquoise waves of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Several media outlets have since been reporting of such sightings across the world, and many environmental organizations are constantly voicing concerns over the rising levels of a new kind of trash, COVID waste, making its way into our already polluted water bodies. Billions of face masks and gloves are being used and discarded by people every day, across the globe. A large number of them end up littering our lakes, rivers, beaches and sea beds, further exasperating the ocean pollution problem. Single-use and micro plastics are already a big threat to marine life, and harmful chemicals, hazardous wastes, and oil spills further affect the health and life span of sea turtles, fishes, sharks, and corals, endangering a broad spectrum of marine species. And now, COVID waste has made its way to the ever-growing list of ocean pollutants.

Our oceans are our greatest natural resources. They are home to a large number of living organisms whose survival is crucial to our existence. Our food chains, weather systems, and atmospheric oxygen levels, are all governed by large marine systems. When the ocean ecosystems are destroyed, it adversely impacts our economies and lives. We would be foolish not to safeguard our best and biggest resource for survival. Survival isn’t just about protecting ourselves from germs, it’s about sustaining our natural resources so that they continue to flourish, and in the process nourish everything and everyone along the way. In our eagerness to protect ourselves from the pandemic, we may be forgetting our responsibility towards other forms of life on the planet. While taking precautions like wearing a face mask are absolutely necessary to protect ourselves and prevent the spread of disease, let’s not forget that our oceans and the diverse life within them, need to stay robust too.

By simply adopting safe and responsible waste disposal practices, we can protect ourselves and our ecosystems from extinction. To begin with, we should reduce waste by avoiding single-use face masks whenever we can. Washable and reusable masks are environmentally friendly, and should be used if possible. If single use face masks have to be used for any reason, we must ensure not to discard them out in the open, flush them into toilets, or leave them in any public place. Always, and always, throw them in a bin, and if possible, into medical waste containers or specially designated bins. Most public places have these bins in place and all we need to do is walk up to one. If every individual feels responsible for their actions, then not only will our fight against this pandemic yield successful results, but also a cleaner and greener planet, for ourselves, and for future generations.