Disposable masks are adding to the burden of non-biodegradable garbage, and experts are worried

Prajakta Joshi
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

With the global garbage issues already unresolved, these disposable non-biodegradable face masks are set to add additional pressure on the already weak system of disposal

Pune: Several countries are anticipating another major garbage-related threat in the post-Covid-19 world -- that of discarded single-use face masks. 

With the global garbage issues already unresolved, these disposable non-biodegradable face masks are set to add an additional pressure on the already weak system of disposal.

“These face masks have the potential to turn into a very big problem, as the paranoia and fear of the disease amongst the people has increased the quantity of these masks in the garbage a lot. Moreover, their segregation is difficult because of their high-risk nature,” said Harshad Barde of SWaCH, organisation that has tied up with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for waste collection across the city.

Inefficient disposal system

As per environmentalist Kishori Gadre, since India does not have sustainable solutions to our garbage issues anyway, whatever new element gets added to it always has the potential to worsen the situation.

“Our basic disposal system is flawed. Segregation is not at all up to the mark. A lot of non-biodegradable things directly go to the dumping ground. We say plastic needs to be banned for regulating garbage, but the use of plastic in these essential things like masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits cannot be banned,” Gadre stated.

She added, “Only if we bring our entire system under control, we will be able to manage such unprecedented additions to the garbage in a better way. Until then, it will always continue to be a big problem.”

Reusable/cloth masks

“People need to be educated to not use disposable masks and gloves when it’s not necessary. Only awareness will help combat the menace of garbage, instead of cursing plastic,” said polymer scientist Dr Vijay Habbu.

Social entrepreneur Medha Tadpatrikar of Rudra Environmental solutions India said that more people have started using cloth masks now. (As shown in the above photo clicked by photojournalist Vaibhav Thombre.)

“These masks are more affordable than the disposable ones, which is also a deciding factor. People used more disposable masks earlier, but now, most have moved towards reusable, cloth masks. We are all learning about the disease together, and awareness will help bring the change eventually. Our company is also trying to create a product in this regard,” Tadpatrikar added.

Habbu added, “Cloth masks are certainly more comfortable to use as well. It is the responsibility of the administration and media to create awareness amongst the people for using reusable masks.”

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