Masks: protection for humans, damage to the environment

VD photos: Engelbert Maldonado.

By Engelbert Maldonado, Italy

The mask became one more garment to wear, some choose to customize it and others, buy them disposable.

In countries like Italy, where the use of masks is mandatory, the amount of plastic waste generated by the country on a daily basis will increase from 220 a 240 tons, thanks to disposable masks.

The data is released after the analysis of the Use of Resources Division of the Department of Sustainability of the Territorial Productive System (ENEA), who considered calculating the daily mobility of Italians away from home.

According to these data, some 40 millions of Italians circulate in the streets of the country using single-use face masks, better known as surgical masks, that are discarded in a short time.

This data is based on the assumption that of the more than 60 million inhabitants of the Mediterranean peninsula; in addition to 20 millions residing in the country stay at home.

But also, if the other four countries in Europe, they have large populations: France, Germany, England and Spain, they discard the same amount of masks every day, daily plastic waste volume, will be approximately 1,200 tons.

The material with which these mask are made, does not disintegrate easily. Claudia Brunori, from the ENEA Department explained it very well: “The masks are made of synthetic fabric based on plastic polymer”, the material with which face holes are covered, which in Europe is called “non woven fabric”.

Discarding millions of masks a day causes problems, because they enter as non-recyclable plastic garbage and therefore it is added to the millions of tons in common dumps or incinerators.

The reason for such fate is because “the little garment that covers the facial holes, it also contains a small iron to accommodate the nose and elastic cord, making it difficult to separate the components”, considered the expert.

Thats not all, bad practices of littering everywhere, it is especially containing plastic and metal, could end up adding to the more than 3 million tons already in the sea.

Polluting material

It is known to everyone that plastic materials are not biodegradable, they disintegrate into small pieces until they become micropolymers, that is to say always staying plastic, contaminating the environment in said process, which is known as photodegradation.

Según The Ocean Cleanup, the 55% of marine species for human consumption contain microplastic in the section of the digestive system and the 70% of the species that inhabit deep waters has ingested plastic.

The requirement of masks for the coronavirus health emergency worldwide, will increase the use of plastic polymer, which already had an estimated textile demand of more than 190 thousand tons.

This material, is used because “at the moment it is the only one that offers the most efficient filtration, allowing breathing more or less well”, Brunori stated.

The situation does not change using reusable face masks, why “the type does not change, the material remains the same only with different layers or types of plastic polymer”, he added.

As for the gloves, the expert said that it is also fundamentally plastic, and therefore both devices required to prevent Covid-19 infection are contaminating., with the variant that the glove is more feasible in the disintegration.