Updated: Jul 2, 2021
When strolling on the beach, it is always disturbing to find so many plastic water bottles, bags, and other plastic waste strewn everywhere, disturbing the natural environment. You may be finding it even more upsetting now that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to dozens of single use masks and gloves washing up on shore.
In a Los Angeles Times article, an environmental activist in Hong Kong noticed that in February, a few weeks after the first COVID-19 cases, there were more than 70 face masks on a beach a little over an acre in length. In France, divers have found dozens of so-called “COVID Waste,” which includes gloves, face masks, and bottles of hand sanitizer mixed in with the already large amounts of plastic waste in the ocean. With large populations of countries wearing face masks, it is extremely likely that there will be more disposable masks in the ocean than there are jellyfish.
When I learned about this news, I was completely shocked at the amount of masks being improperly disposed of that could end up in the ocean. On my daily walks, I have started noticing a large amount of disposable single-use face masks in the streets and sidewalks, which can easily wash into a storm drain and end up in our rivers and oceans.
It is estimated already that 13 million tons of plastic are washed into the ocean each year, and the numbers keep rising. In a Guardian article, it is mentioned that single-use face masks like the image above, have a lifespan of 450 years, and are, “an ecological timebomb given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet,” as stated by an environmental activist in a letter to the French president. The COVID-19 pandemic has an extreme ecological impact on our planet for this generation and the generations to come.
Addressing this issue as a society will require shared solutions and action, but we can all do our small part to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 waste. If you want to help keep our beaches clean, Seaside Sustainability hosts regular beach clean ups! Sign up for our newsletter to get information on the next beach clean up and visit our website to learn more about our drain-smART program where we focus on educating others on the importance of keeping clean storm drains.