The Dutch government has indicated that the face mask obligation will expire on Saturday 26 June 2021. Other countries are also easing measures, but the face mask is not yet completely abolished everywhere. Good news, because if the face masks are no longer mandatory, there will be less mouth masks in our litter!
Since the corona pandemic (covid-19), not only has the use of face masks and plastic/surgical gloves increased explosively, but also the amount of face masks and plastic gloves that LIVES partners encounter during clean-up actions has increased enormously! Fortunately, due to good disinfection measures, the amount of gloves had already decreased. Why is the disappearance of the face mask duty good news?
Since the stricter measures to combat covid-19, the face mask requirement was introduced in many countries in the autumn of 2020. Sales of face masks therefore increased enormously, both from fabric face masks and from disposable mouth masks. Good on the one hand, but bad on the other. Good, because it helped prevent the spread of the virus*, but extremely bad for the environment. Bad for the environment? Then why?
Facts about face mask(s)
Everywhere you see them. Face masks. Especially the disposable mouth caps are bad for the environment, because they often contain plastic.
- Face masks are generally made of non-woven textiles or made of cellulose– or synthetic fibre. After a few uses, the fabric face mask should be washed and the disposable mouth mask discarded because the filtering effect will then be gone.
- The degradation time of a face mask is infinite! A face mask that ends up on the ground is extremely harmful to the environment. The degradation time of plastic depends heavily on the composition of the plastic, its shape and environmental conditions. The plastics will never completely break down in nature, but at most disintegrate into pieces. For example, they persist as microplastics (less than 1 mm) or even invisible nanoparticles.
- Protection attracts change on the environment In the last year, the proportion of face masks and protective gloves in the growing amount of litter has increased. In the three measurements that Rijkswaterstaat has made since last summer, 1 in 91 pieces of rubbish on the street was ‘corona-related’, which rose rapidly from 1 in 67 to 1 in 45. Another study shows that at a rate of 3% around the world, more than 1.56 billion face masks already end up in nature. See: https://oceansasia.org/covid-19-facemasks/
Prevention measures to combat face masks on the streets
In order to combat the growing problem of face masks in the environment, various initiatives have been launched in many countries in recent months. Think of the action of Nederland Schoon with the campaign #mondkapjegeenzwerfkapje and the campaign of the Flemish Mooimakers Maak van je mondmasker geen grondmasker (‘Don’t turn your face mask into a ground mask)’. In Germany, too, there is a campaign from World Cleanup Day. The #maskenmüll. In addition, initiatives by neighbourhood associations and nature movements have been set up in many cities to clean up litter and therefore a lot of face masks. But of course it all starts with you.
Litter free rivers and streams (LIVES) and face masks or other litter
LIVES is committed to reducing waste and especially plastic in the Meuse. Fortunately, with the lifting of the face mask requirement, part of the problem will disappear, but unfortunately we will find face masks in surface water and on banks for a long time to come. In addition, the nuisance of other products such as Single Used Plastics that ends up in the Meuse and on the banks will also remain.
The LIVES partners remain jointly committed to reducing all waste in the Meuse and on the river banks, including by placing garbage collectors, clean-up and enforcement actions and making administrative and official agreements in the field of combating litter. From 1-1-2023, the European Single Use Plastics Directive will also contribute to further addressing the problem.
* LIVES is not about the discussion whether or not face masks are effective in curbing the COVID-19 virus.
Interesting Dutch literature on mouth masks:
Mondneusmaskers of -kapjes: verschillende soorten | Nieuws en media | NVWA
Mondkapjes | Waarzitwatin | Rijksoverheid
Mondkapjes ‘serieus probleem’ voor natuur, zorgen om schadelijke stoffen | Binnenland | AD.nl
Mag dat: wegwerp mondkapjes bij het plastic afval gooien? – indebuurt Gouda
Mondkapjes zijn gevaarlijk. – Security.NL