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The marine research group Oceans Asia has released a report titled, Masks on the Beach: The Impact of COVID-19 on Marine Plastic Pollution. The article outlines important issues regarding the global impact of PPE face masks as a source of pollution globally.

Single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection. These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste.

“Using an annual global production estimate of 52 billion masks, we calculate that1.56 billion maskswill enter our oceans in 2020, amounting to between 4,680 and 6,240 tonnes of plastic pollution.”

Around the world, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the production and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such asmasks and gloves,has skyrocketed. The value of the global face masks market was~$0.79 billion USD in 2019, but expanded to an estimated~$166 billion USD by the end of 2020.

One report in June predicted that the volume of this market will peak at more than 52 billion units by the end of 2020.This rapid increase in production still falls short of demand –in June the World Health Organization (WHO) and others estimated that 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves would be needed on a monthly basis in order to protect people worldwide.

Regardless of whether the face mask offers adequate protection from a virus which is smaller than the majorty of masks are capable of filtering, PPE face masks are currently in use around the world as a means of personal protection from Sars Covid-19 and other pathogens. One issue that is rarely discussed is what happens to these disposable masks once they are discarded.

If they truely function as intended then they should be disposed of as a harzardous waste product, since they could contain virus particles, bacteria, molds or fungus.

If disposed of properly they still end up in landfills, and add to the accumulation of plastics in the environment.

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The improper disposal of single-use plastic PPE has led to a surge in plastic pollution, most notably in our oceans and waterways. This increase was brought to world attention when we first reported finding face masks washing up on remote beaches in the Soko Islands, Hong Kong in late February 2020. Since then, with each visit, we have continued to find masks on beaches around Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to Hong Kong; divers with Opération Mer Propre found masks on the sea bed during a clean up near the Côte d'Azur, France.

Photographer, Dan Giannopoulos photographed over 300 discarded gloves and masks found around Southampton, United Kingdom (UK) over the course of 4 days.

The news is full of stories of PPE littering cities around the globe.

The proliferation of masks in the environment reveals weaknesses in our waste management systems and irresponsible practices/habits on the part of individuals.

It also serves to illuminate an issue that has been accumulating for decades–unchecked plastic pollution contaminating our environment. The accumulation of plastic in the environment is not a recent phenomenon, but it is one that is becoming increasingly problematic and unavoidable – encountering plastic debris on a visit to the beach is almost inescapable.

Here on Playa Potrero, Canadian visitors helping with a beach cleanup in December, were shocked to find dozens of discarded plastic hypodermic needles washed up on the beach. Other plastics containers and discarded items are a constant source of concern. It's inevitable that discarded masks will soon become a new source of waste washing up on our shores.

The research indicates additional plastic pollution created by the COVID-19 pandemic is but part of a much larger problem. While this problem is not new, the urgency of the call to action grows louder as the plastic piles up.

You can view or download the research document here.

To support the work of Oceans Asia or get involved by sponsoring a project visit here

 

 

 

The top climate change scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said he has received $4 million from Congress and permission from his agency to study two emergency—and controversial—methods to cool the Earth if the U.S. and other nations fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Lost amid the coverage of Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg at last week’s U.N. Global Climate Summit were the 500 international scientists, engineers and other stakeholders sounding a very different message: “There is no climate emergency.”

The European Climate Declaration, spearheaded by the Amsterdam-based Climate Intelligence Foundation [CLINTEL], described the leading climate models as “unfit” and urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to pursue a climate policy based on “sound science.”

"Current climate policies pointlessly and grievously undermine the economic system, putting lives at risk in countries denied access to affordable, reliable electrical energy,” said the Sept. 23 letter signed by professionals from 23 countries.

Most of the signers hailed from Europe, but there were also scientists from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

"We urge you to follow a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation,” the letter said.

The signers asked Mr. Guterres to place the declaration on the UN’s agenda for the meeting ending Monday—which hasn’t happened—and organize a meeting of scientists “on both sides of the climate debate early in 2020.”

The declaration was dismissed by Penn State climatologist Michael E. Mann, who called it “craven and stupid,” as well as the left-of-center [U.K.] Guardian, which said the document “repeats well-worn and long-debunked talking points on climate change that are contradicted by scientific institutions and academies around the world.”

At the same time, the sheer number of prominent signers with scientific and engineering credentials belied the contention that only a handful of fringe researchers and fossil-fuel shills oppose the climate-catastrophe “consensus.”

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Today, on the eve of the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Summit, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica, called for the formation of a High Ambition Coalition of nations to push for a Deal for Nature that will protect 30% of the planet by 2030. The goal will be to finalize the deal at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, China in 2020. The governments of the Seychelles, the UAE, Monaco, Gabon, and Mozambique have joined the initiative.

This urgent push stems from an accelerating awareness that the climate emergency and the extinction crisis are interconnected, and that protecting more nature could be our best chance to both sequester carbon and save threatened species. Scientists have concluded that at least one third of climate solutions lie in protecting and restoring our natural world.

President Alvarado of Costa Rica said: 

"The fires, floods and ice melts are planetary alarm bells for us humans to act. Costa Rica has heard these wake up calls loud and clear and wants all nations to join us in launching a High Ambition Coalition at the UNFCCC Pre Cop In San Jose, committing to protect 30% of our planet by 2030. If we urgently unite now we can restore and conserve nature, feed our people, and build thriving economies."

His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment said:

“We must open our eyes to the cruel fact that climate change is progressing faster than we are, and we need to pick up the pace to win this fight. We realize the gravity of the task at hand, but are confident that together we can build the necessary global momentum to save the natural world we value and on which we depend so much. We are proud to join the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. We share the coalition’s vision to chart an ambitious path toward protecting nature worldwide.”

Earlier this year the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) Global Assessment found 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction and called for ‘Transformative changes’ to protect nature. At the same time, top scientists published A Global Deal for Nature as a “companion pact to the Paris Agreement” stating that 30% of Earth needs to be formally protected and an additional 20% designated as climate stabilization areas, by 2030, to stay below 1.5°C. 

One of the authors and Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, Enric Sala said: 

“We ought to stop the unplugging of our life support system. Without a healthy natural world the future of humanity will be grim. The good news is that we know what to do, and visionary countries are leading the way by committing to protect 30% of our planet by 2030.”

The proposal is a science based target that seeks to protect 30% of the planet in key biodiversity areas. Ninety countries have already protected more than 17% of their land, 27 have protected more than 30 percent, and a few are close to or even past protecting half of their land. The protected marine surface area has jumped from 0.7 percent of the total ocean in 2000 to about seven percent today — a near ten-fold increase.

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