Zero waste advocates urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and local government units (LGUs) to incorporate ecological waste management of used face masks as part of the protocols to stop the spread of coronavirus.
EcoWaste Coalition said with the wearing of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) having become routine, we should all be concerned on how to dispose of these properly as some of these are non-biodegradable and non-recyclable.
"We urge the IATF and our LGUs to make it a point to include the ecological management of used face masks and other PPE in the protocols being enforced in our communities and workplaces," EcoWaste zero waste campaigner Jove Benosa said.
"The unhygienic and environmentally destructive practice of throwing soiled masks and other PPE on the sides of streets and other public places is very worrisome. The ban on dumping or littering under RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and related ordinances, should be enforced," he added.
Should we fail to stop such practice, Benosa warned that "littered face masks may become as common as cigarette butts and plastic bags polluting the streets, beaches, and seas.
"Fish and other marine animals do not wear face masks, so please dispose of your used masks with utmost care," he said.
EcoWaste also pointed out that the irresponsible disposal of used face masks and other PPE may also put waste workers, including street sweepers, garbage collectors and waste pickers, at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), used face masks, gloves, as well as tissue, and other wastes, particularly used by suspected, probable or confirmed cases of coronavirus are classified as special wastes.
Such wastes should be disposed of in a separate waste bag, and if available, dispose of them in a yellow bag labeled with "hazardous healthcare waste" or "infected waste."
The DENR-EMB also noted that disinfection of used masks and gloves can be done by soaking the masks/gloves for 30 minutes in a diluted bleach solution--one tablespoon of bleach to 1.5 liters of water.
To discourage the unrestrained use and disposal of throw-away masks, EcoWaste also appealed to the public to opt for reusable fabric masks, which can be easily washed with detergent or soap and safely reused.
"By opting for reusable or washable face masks, we avoid generating non-biodegradable and non-recyclable garbage that only adds to the worsening plastic pollution crisis," it said.