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‘Environmental disaster looming’ with 91 times more face mask litter

Researchers warn that face masks can act as a vector to spread Covid-19 and cause infrastructure problems such as blocking sewers.

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Face mask litter increased by 9,000% in the first seven months of the pandemic (Marine Conservation Society/PA)

Face mask litter increased by 9,000% in the first seven months of the pandemic (Marine Conservation Society/PA)

Face mask litter increased by 9,000% in the first seven months of the pandemic (Marine Conservation Society/PA)

There was 91 times more litter from face masks recorded in the first seven months of the pandemic, creating plastic pollution which could last hundred of years and potentially increasing the spread of coronavirus, according to a new study.

Now the researchers at the University of Portsmouth are urging the Government to launch legislation to prevent PPE littering after two million items were collected across 11 countries.

They warn that face masks can act as a vector to spread Covid-19 and cause infrastructure problems such as blocking sewers.

Despite millions of people being told to use face masks, little guidance was given on how to dispose of them or recycle them safely. Without better disposal practices, an environmental disaster is loomingProfessor Steve Fletcher

Also, face masks can pose a threat to animals as they can choke on them or suffer problems if the masks are eaten. They can also damage plant life.

And in the long-term, the researchers warn that dropped face masks can help transmit pollutants as well as becoming micro plastics that enter the food chain.

Lead researcher Dr Keiron Roberts said: “There is a clear need to ensure that requiring the use of these items is accompanied with education campaigns to limit their release into the environment.”

Professor Steve Fletcher added: “Despite millions of people being told to use face masks, little guidance was given on how to dispose of them or recycle them safely. Without better disposal practices, an environmental disaster is looming.

“The majority of masks are manufactured from long-lasting plastic materials, and if discarded can persist in the environment for decades to hundreds of years. This means they can have a number of impacts on the environment and people.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “Our priority is rightly to protect public health during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but this does not dilute our existing commitments to tackling single-use plastics and combatting litter.

“It is vital we all dispose of our waste – including face coverings and other PPE – in the correct manner. Face coverings should be disposed of in normal waste bins.”

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