Environmental group asks public to discard used face masks properly to prevent contagion

Published March 16, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Chito Chavez 

In the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, environmental health group EcoWaste Coalition on Sunday appealed to the public to discard used face masks properly to prevent the virus from spreading further.


As the community quarantine in Metro Manila began on Sunday, the group stressed the need for the public not to worsen the situation by disposing of their used faced masks properly.

“Even though people in good health need not wear face masks, the demand for single-use masks has markedly risen with the spread of COVID-19,” noted the groups’ zero waste campaigner, Jove Benosa.

“These masks, which are not meant to be recycled or reused for health and safety reasons, are subsequently disposed of and may end up as street or marine litter,” he added.

The Quezon City-based group highlighted three reasons why people should safely dispose of used face masks:

First, the improper disposal of used masks may contaminate the surroundings with germs that can make people sick.

“As the virus can live on surfaces for a number of days, discarded masks may become a potential source of infection,” Benosa said.

He cited a new study published in the March 2020 issue of The Journal of Hospital Infection that says “human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days.”

Second, the arbitrary disposal of used masks may end up polluting water bodies and harming marine life.

“Like the ubiquitous single-use plastic bags in the oceans, discarded masks may be mistaken as food by aquatic creatures, blocking their digestive tracts and affecting their growth, reproduction, and survival,” Benosa said.

Third, the inappropriate disposal of used face masks may lead to irresponsible recycling and reusing of such masks.

As an example, Benosa recalled the raid conducted last March 2 by the Thai police in a recycling factory in Saraburi province that recycles and resells used face masks to cater to the rising demand.

“Health experts do not recommend reusing disposable face masks,” he pointed out.

According to a study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in the U.S., “disposable masks and respirators do not lend themselves to reuse because they work by trapping harmful particles inside the mesh of fibers of which they are made.

“This hazardous buildup cannot be cleaned or disinfected without damaging the fibers or other components of the device such as the straps or nose clip,” the study said.

To reduce the consumption and disposal of face masks, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated the following advice by the World Health Organization (WHO):

-If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection.

-Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

-Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rubs or soap and water.

-If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

“WHO also stated that the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide adequate level of protection and other equally relevant measures should be adopted,” the group said.

“Let us heed the appeal made by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III enjoining the Filipino people to judiciously use face masks to prevent shortage,” Benosa said, adding that the sensible use of such masks will also help in minimizing the disposal problem.

Duque had earlier said that the “use of surgical face masks is only recommended for persons caring for the sick, persons with respiratory infection/symptoms, and for healthcare and other frontline workers.”

To protect public health and the environment, the EcoWaste Coalition further asked the country’s health authorities to draw up specific guidelines on the proper disposal of face masks amid the coronavirus crisis.

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