COVID-19: Face Masks May Worsen Already-Existing Plastic Pollution Problem in Africa – Report

By Ayo Ajayi

A recent report has shown that the use and indiscriminate dumping of face masks in the environment may pose more danger than the COVID-19 they are meant to prevent.

Since the outbreak of the disease in December 2019, there has been widespread use of face masks by healthcare workers and people leaving their homes as a risk-reducing measure designed to prevent community infection through air droplets. Face masks are disposable plastic-based personal protective equipment made from non-woven and woven fabrics.  

The study reports that 12 billion medical and homemade face masks are discarded monthly in Africa by over 1.34 billion people, and these face masks are finding their ways into the beaches, streets and open dumpsites.

According to the researchers which include Professor Nsikak Benson, Dr Omowunmi Fred-Ahmadu and Professor Aderemi Atayero (all of Covenant University, Nigeria) as well as Dr David Bassey of DR Energy Inc., Canada, an equivalent of 105, 000 tons of used face masks per month could be generated and discarded into the environment by Africans.

“Despite their life-saving properties, massive consumption and disposal of face masks will likely exacerbate existing plastic pollution issues, particularly in African countries with limited waste management infrastructures, as an increasing amount of COVID plastic wastes generated litter the streets and roads, gutters, medical facilities, parking lots, dumpsites, and beaches” the lead researcher, Prof. Benson explained.

The report highlighted that 15 out of 57 African countries were significant face masks waste contributors, with Nigeria taking the lead, contributing 15%, Ethiopia (8.6%), Egypt (7.6%), DR Congo (6.7%), Tanzania (4.5%) and South Africa (4.4%).

The authors drew the attention of governments, healthcare agencies, and the general public to the potential dangers of COVID plastic waste, as well as the environmental consequences that could aggravate the already-existing plastic pollution epidemic following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study also advocated public awareness education targeted at behavioural change and improving people’s knowledge toward reducing plastic wastes, the campaign against open dumping of used face masks, and the promotion of recycling, reuse, and source reduction activities as ways of tackling plastic pollution.

In the context of a protracted coronavirus pandemic, the authors called for African governments, health workers, medical professionals, and the general public to take individual and collective responsibility for preventing plastic pollution.

(Visited 72 times, 1 visits today)