While Covid face mask mandates have proved lucrative for governments, the pharmaceutical and PPE industries, and health officials, they have taken a devastating toll on the world’s oceans and wildlife according to ecological and environmental experts.
An extensive study from marine preservation group OceansAsia found that “the number of masks entering the environment on a monthly basis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is staggering.”
“From a global production projection of 52 billion masks for 2020, we estimate that 1.56 billion masks will enter our oceans in 2020, amounting to between 4,680 and 6,240 metric tonnes of plastic pollution,” OceansAsia reported. “These masks will take as long as 450 years to break down and all the while serve as a source of micro plastic and negatively impact marine wildlife and ecosystems.”
“Every single visit we find more masks,” OceansAsia’ Teale Phelps Bondaroff said, noting that since many masks are shredded and covered in algae, they may be consumed by fish and ocean creatures that mistakes the masks as food.
The global face masks market value was roughly $790 million in 2019, but exploded to over $166 billion by the end of 2020.
In a Facebook post from early in the mask and lockdown cycle, Operation Clean Sea nonprofit founder Laurent Lombard warned, “Knowing that over 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there are likely to be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean…!”
“It is everyone’s responsibility to avoid this new pollution but also our elected officials, deputies and public authorities,” Lombard wrote. “Indeed for several years some municipalities have been trying to fight against all these incivilities that destroy our environment and our health in the long term, so it might be time to unite all the good initiatives to resolve this new pollution as quickly and firmly as possible.”
The billions of masks entering the ocean do not comprise the whole of mask pollution either. Masks litter roadsides and public spaces in cities and villages, posing a threat to terrestrial fauna as well as oceanic.