Used masks taking toll on environment

PETALING JAYA: Environmentalists have reiterated calls for the public to dispose of their single-use face masks properly to protect the environment.

Malaysia Nature Society president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said the public are generally aware that they have to dispose of their face masks properly.

However, he said people still do not practise this in reality.

“As we use more and more (single-use) face masks, it will definitely cause a lot of problems. So, we have to manage that, we cannot throw them everywhere.

“We have to be disciplined and dispose of them properly, ” he said.

Prof Ahmad said it is also important to find and use the safest face mask, adding that the government should regulate face masks according to standard guidelines.

Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said the biggest issue about face masks is that they are non-degradable and are being thrown away in huge quantities.

“For countries with waste-to-energy plants or incinerators, there are no issues to turn it into energy, but for Malaysia, it all goes into the landfill and it stays there forever because it is mainly plastic.

“We are so concerned about plastic pollution but we have nothing in place for face masks. Because it is a single-use item and the quantity used is tremendous, ” he said.

According to the Department of Environment, face masks used by the public are classified as solid waste, not clinical waste.

Theng said it is worse when face masks are dumped or littered on the street and into the drains which could lead to other bigger problems such as flooding from clogged drains as well as microplastic issues.“Since we have no system in place, there is nothing that we can really do but to throw them into the waste bin.

“There should also be no littering as that will create more problems such as clogged drains and marine plastic pollution in the long run, ” he said.

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages on, Theng said it is not right to urge people to change to cloth face masks.

“I believe many cloth masks are not effective. Health still comes first as a priority to protect ourselves, ” he said.

Malaysia has made face masks compulsory since August last year.

Waste experts previously estimated that at least 10 million single-use face masks are used and discarded daily in the country.

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