Thousands of masks are beginning to be found in the sea: what should we do with used masks?

Thousands of masks are beginning to be found in the sea: what should we do with used masks?

Masks thrown into the sewers or into the toilets of houses are appearing in the oceans, given the massive use of these proxylaxis measures due to the advance of COVID-19 , caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Members of the conservation organization Oceans Asia have discovered thousands of used masks on the beaches of various small uninhabited islands in the Soko archipelago (between Hong Kong and Lantau). There are no specific instructions on what to do with them once used.

They are not recyclable materials

Food wrappers, fishing gear and plastic waste continue to arrive in Antarctica. Two new studies on how plastic waste is reaching subantarctic islands are published in the journal Environment International .

To this they are adding, in addition, the massive arrival of used masks .

There are different types of masks. These are often single-use and designed for surgical, dental, medical practice, isolation, or dust or laser purposes. Masks frequently used in unsanitary settings can also be made of cloth, paper, or a similar material. Both the masks and their name or the standards applied to them differ by country .

But, as a general rule, used masks should not be flushed down the toilet. It is convenient to put them in a garbage bag that, as they are not recyclable materials, will go to the gray container to prevent those who work in the recycling plants from getting infected . It is strictly inadvisable to deposit it in separate collection containers for any of the fractions (organic, packaging, paper, glass or textile) or its abandonment in the environment.

All waste that is not recycled and cannot be used to make compost goes to the gray container. According to the Government’s recommendations, these wastes will preferably be incinerated or taken to landfills .

Little by little, even as the state of alarm is more relaxed, the mask will become an indispensable item in the daily routine, but it cannot be recycled in any way. The same procedure should be followed with plastic glasses, gloves, and disposable gowns, which are used when caring for a sick person in isolation.

It is known that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has a useful life depending on the surface where it is deposited, and can last up to 4 days in some materials such as plastic, banknotes, surgical masks or steel . Regarding fabric and clothing, it is speculated that the new coronavirus can last up to 2 days, a time similar to glass or wood. In fact, some studies suggest that coronavirus particles can last up to 6-7 days in some cases on porous surfaces, but it has not yet been shown that they have contagion power in such cases.

All masks, both surgical and filter FFP2 or FFP3, are for single use . Given the shortage of these protective equipment, many people these days are making theirs out of cloth. These can be reused as long as they are used correctly and are always washed and disinfected after use. Researchers at Stanford University are studying different options to decontaminate and reuse N95-type masks. However, they have not been able to determine if the filtration capacity is maintained correctly since they are methods for an extraordinary situation .