The EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watchdog group, has sounded the alarm over the reckless disposal of single-use face masks worn to safeguard against and contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The group, which advocates for a green and just recovery from COVID-19, appealed to the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to direct all local government units (LGUs) to simultaneously enforce the compulsory use of face masks and the ban on littering, especially of soiled disposable masks.
The EcoWaste Coalition warned that improper disposal of soiled masks, which contain respiratory droplets of people who wore them, may endanger the health of others who pick them and then touch their own faces.
It also warned that failure to halt the littering of disposable face masks and other protective gears could worsen plastic trash and other pollutants harming the marine ecosystems.
The warning came on the heels of photos taken by the group’s Basura Patrollers showing soiled disposable masks carelessly scattered on gutters and sidewalks in Caloocan, Makati, Manila, Pasay and Quezon Cities. The group expressed particular concern over littered face masks outside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex where thousands of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) crammed over the weekend.
“We find the careless disposal of dirty face masks in the streets very alarming,” lamented Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition, “as if we are not living in a state of public health emergency.”
“The IATF and local government authorities should take immediate action to prevent these potentially infectious materials from harming human health and threatening aquatic life,” he suggested.
“To draw attention to this pressing problem and the need for citizens’ cooperation, LGUs may enact new ordinances or simply enforce existing ones that prohibit and penalize littering of waste materials in line with R.A. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,” said Benosa.
“LGUs should urgently act to educate and mobilize the public on proper disposal of soiled face masks, gloves, tissues, wipes and other potentially infectious wastes to protect human health, especially the health of waste workers, and to prevent the spillage of such discards into the oceans,” he emphasized.
The EcoWaste Coalition explained that improper disposal of used masks may cause the spread of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, reminding that coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for a number of days.
Littered face masks may end up polluting water bodies and harming marine animals, noting that masks like single-use plastics and cigarette butts may be mistaken as food by fish, turtles and birds, blocking their digestive tracts and affecting their growth, reproduction and survival.