World Environment Day 2020: Stop the mask pollution, urge environmentalists
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a visible rise in the usage of face masks, since wearing masks in public areas is mandatory now. But once used, these masks are landing up everywhere — from the roadside to the sea shores — giving rise to a new environmental issues of ‘mask pollution’.
The concern of proper mask disposal is becoming bigger by the day. “I’ve been trying to create awareness around the issue of proper disposal of used masks and gloves, amid the pandemic. I see many people littering used masks on the streets and this is a grave issue for the environment and the ecosystem,” says Delhi-based environmentalist Rakesh Khatri, founder and director at Eco Roots Foundation.
Advising denizens on how to properly dispose off used masks, and other protection gear, Khatri adds, “The masks must be destroyed or disposed properly after use, by washing them in an antiseptic liquid, and then putting them in a bag, keeping it ideally for 72 hours and then dumping it along with the other garbage. A used mask must not be found littering, on the street or anywhere, at all! During this pandemic, given the limited scope of testing, you never know whether you’re an asymptomatic carrier... and in case later you do turn to be an asymptomatic carrier, then your carelessly thrown away used face mask or gloves can create problems for many who comes in contact with them!”
Across the globe, researchers and scientists have been working towards finding innovative solutions for proper disposal of masks and gloves across the city, specially for places such as hospitals and police stations, where masks are being used more frequently. “When I saw officers on Covid-19 duty throwing away used masks on the street, I realised that this will lead to major problems in future when everyone will be out on the roads after lockdown. That’s when it struck me that what if we had a machine to decompose used masks in a proper way, by completely burning them to ashes; the smoke produced during the process can go through a water pipe into another chamber,” says Delhi-based professor Joginder Singh, who is the head of the research department at Gateway Education.
Singh spent the lockdown in his research lab, and made a range of low-cost devices such as Automatic Sanitiser Dispenser, Automatic Sanitising Tunnels, Automatic Foot Sanitising Machine etc. that are now aiding the fight against Covid-19. “I donated these machines to police stations and small hospitals, where masks are used at a much higher frequency. Since the hazard trucks aren’t able to cover every nook and corner of the city, the disposal of masks still remains to be a pertinent problem among people who are littering them on the streets. If we make this machine in a smaller size, it can be installed easily at more places,” adds Singh.
Delhi-based environmentalist Mridula Bhatia suggests that even RWAs can help in reducing mask pollution, by ensuring that residents engage in proper mask disposal. “RWAs must come up with a procedure where residents, after carefully putting their used masks and gloves in a bag and keeping it for three days, dump it in a common garbage can, which is only used for this purpose by the condominium. This waste must then be treated as biomedical waste, and the municipal authorities must be notified about the same,” says Bhatia, adding, “The entire ecosystem is affected by our actions, and that’s why we need to be careful and not throw used masks and gloves, carelessly. Local garbage collectors have no longer been separating the garbage, and the chances of garbage containing masks being disposed in water bodies are high. In such a situation, the pollution of water bodies becomes a pertinent problem and poses a threat to marine life as well. Besides, people must immediately stop throwing masks and gloves on the roadside!”