Why you shouldn’t carelessly throw away used Corona masks

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Carelessly discarded Corona masks pose a serious problem for the environment and wildlife, according to researchers at the University of Portsmouth. For a study published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability, the scientists examined the relationship between Corona measures in eleven countries and the amount of carelessly discarded Corona masks and other protective equipment.

To do so, they analyzed data from publicly available databases, including data from the waste collection app Litterati, and looked at the period from September 2019 to the first six months of the pandemic.

According to the study, from March to October 2020, the number of improperly disposed masks increased 84-fold. Great Britain took the place of the negative leader. There, masks accounted for the largest share of all carelessly discarded waste in an international comparison, at more than 5 percent. While in other countries also wrongly disposed protective gloves or cleaning cloths were discovered increasingly, in Germany only the number of mask garbage in the public area increased clearly. Austria was not investigated.

“It was no surprise that many disposed masks turned up, but what did surprise us was to see how strongly certain national Corona measures influenced the appearance of masks,” wrote lead researcher Keiron Roberts. For example, the researchers found that while the litter problem slowly increased during stricter lockdown periods in the spring of 2020, it didn’t really get big until more travel and social activities became possible again in the summer and fall, but masks were still mandatory.

What happens when masks are left in place
University of Portsmouth plastics expert Steve Fletcher warned, “Without better disposal, we’re in for an environmental disaster.” Most masks, he said, are produced from durable plastic and can persist in the environment for decades or even centuries. As a result, microplastics could end up in soil or water, and animals could choke on the masks. The Portsmouth scientists called on governments to provide more education on how protective masks should be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

Proper disposal
Protective masks should definitely be disposed of only in residual waste (Restmüll). Residual waste is then usually incinerated in Austria, with the energy used for district heating or electricity generation. Waste paper or recyclable material containers are taboo for used masks, as is organic waste.

  • source: futurezone.at/picture:pixabay.com
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