THE wearing of face masks is a legal requirement in public areas in Malaysia and around the world to control the spread of Covid-19.
However, enforcement of the law on wearing face masks does not come with instructions on how to dispose of them.
This is equally important not only to protect the environment but also to curb the spread of the virus.
Waste management experts estimate that at least 10 million single-use face masks are discarded daily in the country.
These masks cannot be recycled because they may be contaminated and could potentially lead to indirect infections if they enter the recycling system.
A large quantity of used masks end up on our roads and drains as irresponsible people just discard them wherever they like.
Used masks must be placed in special bins and disposed in proper places or incinerated.
The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has also advised against open dumping or burning of medical waste, including face masks, as this could cause serious health and environmental issues. Hence, proper guidelines on how to dispose of masks must be circulated widely to the public.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), face masks should be discarded in the “correct” bin and not mixed with general household waste.
The Brazilian Sanitary and Environmental Engineering Association has come up with a guideline whereby used masks should be sealed in two plastic bags, one inside another, before disposal.
As an extra precaution, when removing the mask, the user must ensure that she/he touches only the elastic parts. Washing hands after disposing of one’s own mask is highly advisable.
A centralised waste collection system could also be enforced for proper segregation at the household level. This has been implemented in China.
It is important for the public to be aware that it is indeed a shared responsibility among all to help stop the spread of the virus and also to not incur or create a new issue along the way (environmental pollution). It should start with the responsible disposal of masks.
The government, in particular the Environment and Water Ministry, must play an active role in spreading awareness among the public of the guidelines on proper disposal of face masks.
I call on the ministry concerned to not only spell out the rules/guidelines but also allocate special bins to the local authorities for the proper disposal of face masks.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Alliance For Safe Community