PETALING JAYA: With the Covid-19 pandemic here for a long stay, environmental groups are calling on the government to look into providing special facilities for Malaysians to properly dispose of their single use face masks which now number in the millions daily.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said since face masks required special treatment due to their hazardous nature, people should not be mixing these with their normal waste.
“Just as we separate and segregate paper, plastic and glass, we should have special facilities and bins for face masks.
“However, we should not be encouraging the use of single use face masks or those with plastic parts and are non-recyclable.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be with us for a while and the use of face masks in public is mandatory, it is about time we find solutions to single use masks and substitute these with reusable face masks, ” she said.
There was a need for planning and action to ensure that while Malaysia was addressing the pandemic, it was not at the same time generating an environmental crisis in the long term through the production of single use face masks that could neither biodegrade nor be safely disposed of, said Meenakshi.
She urged the Water and the Environment Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Housing and Local Government Ministry to collaborate and come up with proper and comprehensives guidelines that consumers could follow, including providing information on where to source for reusable masks.
“And if supplies are insufficient, the government ought to encourage businesses to supply these quickly and efficiently.
“Opting for reusable masks is the best way forward. We must promote the use of masks that are safe – both from a health point of view as well as being environmentally safe, ” she said, adding that consumers must be guided on how to wash and reuse these.
The Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said it would be good if the government could provide special facilities or bins for consumers to discard their face masks.
“If this could be done by the government, it would be good but there may be problems with the bins being misused by the public.
“What the government can do now is to publish clear guidelines on how the laymen can dispose of their face masks safely and in a more environmentally friendly way, ” he said, adding that many still did not know how to properly dispose of them.
“I’ve also observed how people are littering public drains and parks with face masks and this would spell out disaster for our environment in the future, ” he said.
Lee said what could be done now was to tightly wrap the used face mask in tissue or paper – instead of a plastic bag – before discarding it in a garbage bin.
The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association chief executive officer Datuk Dr Paul Selvaraj said there should be constant messages on the importance of proper disposal.
“The message has been coming on and off. People need to clearly know how and where to dispose of them, ” he said.