Over 8 million tons of masks, other PPE waste polluting oceans, beaches, study finds


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A new study has found some 8 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste is quickly polluting the oceans worldwide and posing a danger to marine life.

The study, from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand and use of single-use plastic and is adding to an already “exasperated” environmental issue.

According to the study, the waste has been created by 193 countries, and 26,000 tons of that waste is already in the world’s oceans and further polluting beaches.

The study researchers said that animals are getting caught in the plastics and even ingesting them, leading to injury and death.

El Paso resident John Zapata said people need to do a better job of being aware of the pollution that may be caused by the masks and other COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves.

“I honestly don’t like trash especially when I’m out fishing … It bothers me, I just don’t like seeing a trashy city,” said Zapata. “It’s better looking for the city and the environment and for future generations so we’re not trashing Mother Earth.”

El Paso resident Arielle Hen said they saw the biggest waste during the mask mandates.

“If I do see it, I try to pick it up if I have a napkin or something. I do feel bad. I am very conscious of the environment. I am a vegetarian, so stuff like that does kind of bother me,” Hen said. “I feel like I haven’t seen them as much since mask mandates stopped. But before, I did see a lot in the beginning of COVID. They were everywhere.”

According to the study, Asia is responsible for most of the global plastic waste, at 72%.

“While it is suspected to be large, the magnitude and fate of this pandemic-associated mismanaged plastic waste are unknown,” the report stated.

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