GEORGE TOWN: With about a million face masks being discarded daily in Penang, there are fears that the environment and biodiversity of the state are being permanently affected.
That’s the concern of Penang environment committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, who said the disposable masks would take longer to degrade.
“If people do not dispose of the single use face masks correctly, they will most likely end up in the waters. This will destroy our biodiversity, ” he said.
Phee derived his estimate from the state’s 1.8 million population as well as some 200,000 daily visitors, half of whom use disposable face masks.
He said those in the medical field had to use surgical masks as they did not have a choice but lay people could opt for the cloth masks.
“Wearing face mask is compulsory but the people can opt to use the cloth masks. They can purchase two cloth masks and use them alternately every day, ” he said.
Citing two local councils as an example, Phee said there were about 3,000 workers on the ground who were each supplied with a face mask daily.
“Each mask costs about 60 sen, amounting to RM1,800 a day and about RM54,000 a month.
“If we provide each of them with two cloth masks, it would not only save money but be much better for the environment as well, ” he said.
On the Health Ministry’s assurance that personal protective equipment, masks, gloves and others items used would be properly discarded by their contracted personnel, Phee said it would be better and safer if the waste was processed within the hospital compound.
“By doing so, it can prevent the spread of germs as the waste does not need to be transported out. Neighbouring clinics can pay them to dispose of their waste as well, ” he said.
Sundry shop owner G. Deevagie, 63, said the money spent on disposable masks monthly could be put to better use, such as buying food and groceries.
“In a household of five, you spend around RM5 per day on disposable masks. In a month this could come up to RM150, which amounts to monthly spending on groceries for many people.”
Housewife Nisa Azis, 51, said she only used disposable masks whenever she brought her husband to the hospital.
“I prefer my cloth mask although I know that a surgical mask offers better protection. It is however bad for the environment, ” she said.
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