Tired Earth: An Interview With Dr. Tony Walker, Associate Professor at Dalhousie University

How face masks, gloves and other coronavirus waste is polluting our planet?

As this is a global pandemic there has been a dramatic global increase in the use and disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other single-use plastics. For example, mismanagement of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in widespread environmental pollution. This negatively impacts ecosystems through accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment and directly impacts wildlife via entanglement or ingestion. Additionally, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of single-use plastic items, particularly for take-out food and beverage items. Concerns over the survival of the virus on contaminated surfaces have also led to the reversal of policies to reduce single-use plastics in some jurisdictions. For example, several states in the U.S. have rescinded or delayed plastic bag bans amid coronavirus fears.

What are the states to take steps to prevent the pollution of coasts and oceans against PPE?

There is a need to assess alternatives that allow reductions of PPE and reinforce awareness on the proper public use and disposal. While often made of plastics, disposable medical equipment and PPE are required for the preservation of public health, especially during a pandemic. To prevent subsequent environmental problems, there is a need to reinforce proper disposal of used PPE in sealed garbage bags and highlight the problems of not doing so. 

How to properly recycle masks? What are the sustainable choices in this pandemic? Can we still live sustainably?

Why use single-use masks in the first place? That would negate the need to recycle them. Citizens should use reusable masks instead, whilst still protecting themselves and others.

What's campaign like #maskuary role in increasing public awareness to deal with plastic pollution caused by PPE?

Increasing public awareness is very important. Campaigns like #maskuary can help educate the public on correct disposal methods for single-use PPE and also can help promote the safe use and reuse of reusable masks.


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