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Discarded Covid-19 is a poor fit for the environment
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Discarded Covid-19 is a poor fit for the environment

Face masks are ending up in Nelson waterways and the ocean.


Face masks are becoming a problem in Nelson waterways, and even the ocean.

It was first plastic bags. Now synthetic Covid-19 facemasks are ending up in stormwater systems and the sea.

Face masks are becoming more common on pavements, gutters, parks, and elsewhere. This raises concerns about their effect on the environment and wildlife.

Nelmac, an environmental management company, says that discarded or dropped masks are ending up in stormwater systems and the sea.

Rachael Williams, Nelmac’s environmental management leader, said that this was evident from the shore. There were masks washed up on beaches, such as Nelson’s Thunanuis beach dog exercise area.

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She said that synthetic and plastic materials don’t easily break down and can harm seabirds or fish when they are found in waterways, beaches, and oceans.

Williams-Gaul explained that Nelmacs team members often found a couple masks while emptying rubbish bins.

She said that you can find a discarded mask in any park if one walks around.

Although it is an additional piece of rubbish to collect, it pales in comparison with the number of empty cans, bottles, and take-out food packaging left in our parks.

Nelmac environmental management leader Rachael Williams-Gaul wears a reusable cotton mask while holding the type of disposable masks ending up in the sea and littering land.


Rachael Wilkins-Gaul, Nelmac’s environmental manager, is wearing a reusable cotton mask and holding onto the disposable masks that end in the sea or littering land.

Williams-Gaul explained that Nelmacs teams picking up litter had gloves on, rubbish picker tongs, and hand sanitizer.

Nelmac had taken a proactive step and provided all its employees with reusable cotton masks, she stated.

We also advised our people to ensure that disposable masks are not left unattended and could harm marine life.

Nelmac staff were also advised to dispose of a mask by removing the elastic earpiece. This will ensure that the mask does not end up in a landfill.

A discarded face mask on a street in Nelson.


A Nelson street vendor found a discarded mask for a face.

Dr Richard Everts, Nelson Bays Primary Health microbiologist and infectious disease specialist, said that people should pick up a used face mask and put it in a trash bin. After that, wash their hands with soap or hand sanitizer.

Everts stated that aside from the possibility of Covid-19 spreading to masks if the virus is established in a community; discarded masks could also have other germs like influenza, the contagious respiratory syndrome virus (RSV), streptococcal or staphylococcal bugs, and other germs.

Everts stated that Covid is the star of the show, but other infections are also there.

He said that if you pick it up using its ear loops, you won’t get any of this. I wouldn’t touch any mask that was made from its fabric. It doesn’t matter if it is someone else’s mask or yours, it will be covered in bugs.

David White

On the streets of Auckland, face coverings are available in a variety of sizes, colours, and shapes.

Anton Drazevic, chief executive of Nelson Environment Centre, stated that they were seeing disposable and cloth masks in waterways as well as on roadsides.

He said that face mask litter was a problem all over the world, not just Nelson. It was everywhere.

Drazevic advised people to wash and reuse their face masks. The planet will be healthier if you can keep it going for as long as possible.

David Stephenson, Tasman District Council’s team leader for stormwater rivers and waste, stated that while there have been no complaints about mask litter, he has noticed masks on the streets, so they are getting out of the environment.

He advised people to take their face masks home, tie them up and place them in their trash bags. Stephenson advised that masks be kept in a deep place so they don’t blow away in public garbage bins.

Dispose of face masks

  • Face masks should be placed in a bag with a tie at home.
  • Use masks that are not in use should be stuffed deep into public rubbish bins to prevent them from blowing away.
  • If you find face masks in the environment, cut off the elastic ear loops.

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