By Twinkle Ghosh Global News
Posted June 19, 2021 9:30 am Updated June 19, 2021 9:34 am
Each year, nearly eight million tonnes of plastic pollution enters the oceans from all over the world, but for the first time in 27 years, Canadians are witnessing an unusual clutter of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) kits washing up along the country’s shorelines.
According to Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s annual “Dirty Dozen” 2020 report, some 15,000 volunteers removed over 41,000 kilograms of litter from Canadian coasts and listed finding discarded COVID-19-related supplies among them.
“This is the first time that we’ve seen it recorded and sort of statistically significant numbers too,” Laura Hardman, leader of plastic-free oceans at Ocean Wise, told Global News Thursday. “We just need to remember that as a society, as a whole, that whatever we dispose, whatever leaks out into our environment has implications.”
“I would really, really be asking for people to think responsibly about their personal impacts and to think about not only how they are disposing of masks, but also how they are using them, how they are ensuring that they don’t get lost, that they don’t leak out into the world,” Hardman said.
While disposable masks may look like they are made of paper or natural fabric, they are manufactured using polymers that sometimes take decades or centuries to decompose.
“That’s an important consideration,” Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs, associate professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of Guelph, told Global News Thursday. “These are new sorts of pollutants that are being introduced into the environment… So, we don’t really know about how they’ll kind of spread around quite, quite yet.”
That does not, however, mean that public health should be compromised and people should give up on masks and PPEs Jacobs said. “But surely we could have anticipated the need to provide proper disposal outlets and venues and also proper messaging to the public with respect to how we manage these important health-saving devices to ensure that it doesn’t compromise the environment.” If people are comfortable and able to use reusable masks, obviously that’s a great thing,” Jacobs said, but emphasized the need “to be supporting people” who are not, and guiding them on “proper disposal” of the single-use masks.