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Researchers uncover the environmental impact of COVID-19
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Researchers uncover the environmental impact of COVID-19

Researchers unmask the environmental impacts of COVID-19
Researchers unmask the environmental impacts of COVID-19
Image of facemask — 500 images taken from the app. Zoom in Credit: University of Portsmouth

A new study revealed that face mask litter has increased by 9000% between March 2020 and October 2020. It shows a direct correlation between national legislation and the occurrences of discarded waste that includes face masks or other COVID-19-related personal protective equipment.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth call on governments to adopt policies and legislation that dispose of littered faces masks.

The study was published in the journal today. Nature SustainabilityThis was based upon findings from two open source databases: The extensive “Tracker of Government Responses to COVID-19” and a litter-collecting app called “Litterati“.

More than 2 million litter pieces were collected from 11 countries. These countries had a variety of COVID-19 policies. These databases allowed researchers to map the country’s policies (lockdown severity, mask policy) and establish a baseline line for litter proportions between September 2019 and the first six months after the pandemic.

Dr. Keiron R. Roberts, University of Portsmouth Lecturer in Sustainability and the Built Environment, stated that the study showed the impact that legislating the usage of masks can make on litter occurrence. We found that littered items such as masks saw an exponential rise in their number starting in March 2020 and ending with an 84-fold increase at October 2020. It is important to make sure that these items are not allowed to be released into the environment without education campaigns.

Dr. Roberts explained the background of the research. He stated: “The adverse effects of COVID-19 upon our daily lives are well-known. It was beginning to look like there were some positives to the lockdown’s reduction in human activity, as well as improvements in water quality and air quality. There were also reports of animals returning home to cities and towns due to the reduced human activity. Reports began to emerge of gloves and masks being found on beaches and streets where they were not before. The news reports about this new litter type grew as COVID-19 spread. National lockdowns made it extremely difficult for people to go out and collect evidence of what were merely anecdotal accounts.

Researchers turned to the internet databases after failing to collect any data in the field. Dr. Roberts stated that this data allowed them to examine the COVID-19 litter trends monthly. To determine how national policy and lockdown restrictions impacted litter proportions, we compared WHO announcements and WHO announcements. Although it was not surprising to see mask litter, what surprised us was the impact of national legislation on its occurrence.

These trends emerged:

  • JanuaryMarch. January March
  • MarchMay. This was the period with the most severe lockdowns. As such, mask littering was at an all-time low, but on a steady rise.
  • JuneOctober. To facilitate social interaction, the WHO recommended masks. This came after the loosening of many lockdowns, which led to an increase in freedoms. These months saw a dramatic increase in mask litter.

Professor Steve Fletcher of Revolution Plastics at University of Portsmouth said that despite millions of people being instructed to use facemasks, there was little guidance on how to safely dispose of or recycle them. A major environmental disaster is on the horizon if we don’t adopt better disposal practices. The majority of masks are made from plastic and can last for many years if they are not disposed of properly. From decades to hundreds of Years. This means that they can have many impacts on the environment as well as people.

Most litter can easily be avoided, but it is not always easy to see the effects. There are many direct effects littering has on the environment around us.

  • Short-term Litter can be a vector for COVID-19 transmission. They can cause blockages in the sewers if they get caught up with other items, such as leaves.
  • Medium-term They can choke or entangle large animals and cause serious complications if they are eaten. The litter can also smother smaller organisms as well as plant life.
  • Long-termOnce littered items are in the environment, they can continue to have the same impacts as before and become a route for other pollutants. If they are made from plastic, they can eventually turn into microplastics and enter the food chain.

Dr. Roberts concluded that “we need to prevent this pandemic litter from becoming a lasting legacy.” Two important lessons can be drawn from this study. First, COVID-19 was a key driver in the rise of mask litter. Second, government policies and legislation can have a significant impact on the composition and distribution of litter. New policies need to provide well-structured advice and infrastructure to dispose off waste.

“Nations use masks in order to support social interactions. They must support safe disposal of this litter.

These 11 countries were France (Germany), Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

PPE waste is a deadly poison to animals all over the globe

More information:
Keiron Roberts, Increased litter in personal protective equipment as a result COVID-19 measures Nature Sustainability (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00824-1.

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University of Portsmouth

Researchers uncover the environmental effects of COVID-19 (2021 December 9)
Retrieved 23 Dec 2021

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