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Gone are the first days of confinement in which wild boars roamed freely at the University City of Madrid. From that month of April in which the poppies bloomed on the margins of the sidewalks we have gone to a month of June where what grows on the margins of the sidewalks are not poppies, but masks and gloves .
As we know, since May 21 all those over 6 years old, except for the exceptions contained in the BOE, are required to wear a mask on public roads, in outdoor spaces and in any closed place for public use where it is not can keep the safety distance as well as on public transport. We are talking, therefore, that the use of masks, of which a large number are for single use, is mandatory and therefore the generation of waste is multiplying almost without remedy . And I say almost because there really are some issues on which we have the capacity to act.
These are seven facts that should be known so that the side effects of protection in de-escalation do not end up being more lethal for the planet than the virus itself.
1. A surgical mask can take up to 400 years to disintegrate and gloves, between 50 and 100 years
These figures are approximate and depend on the materials (latex, vinyl, nitrile) and the environmental conditions (sunlight, oxygen, mechanical agents, etc.). In any case, the figures should make us reflect on their use and, especially, on the subsequent elimination we make of them.
2. How do gloves and masks get to the sea?
Although it is usual for this type of waste to end up in a landfill to be incinerated or buried, some of it can end up in the seas and rivers through the water drainage systems in urban areas, of the water that flows through the landfills, or from deliberate discharges into the waters themselves due to the uncivic nature of some specimens. Recall that 80% of marine litter comes from land , while the remaining 20% from maritime activity. We are doing something wrong from the ground.
3. Masks and gloves are a 'bus' for other species
Studies have been carried out that show how plastics can act as a transport vehicle for exotic species to end up in places where they were not before or were not expected. Logically, this circumstance can have a negative environmental impact given the invasive nature of some of the species. Unfortunately, this 'maritime and river tourism' can be increased by now having a new 'fleet of buses' in the form of gloves and masks.
4. Just by throwing away badly and dispersing 1%, up to 10 million masks can pollute the environment every month (WWF Italia data)
Considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams, the result would be the dispersion of more than 40,000 kilos of plastic in nature. Let's go back to point one thinking about the 400 years it can take to disintegrate and the result is disheartening.
5. Single-use gloves and masks for the general population are not recyclable and go to the gray container
Feeling very sorry, ordinary mortals can do nothing with them but dispose of them in the gray container, also known as 'debris'. That is, the totum revolutum container where we put what we do not have a specific recycling container for, such as paper, glass, plastic, etc. Although there is confusion in this regard, it must be clarified that the gloves do not go to the plastic container .
6. Biodegradable masks exist
Yes, they are rare birds , but they exist. We must consider that the health authorities recommend the use of hygienic masks (that is, cloth, washable and reusable) in the healthy population. Within the hygienic masks there are manufacturers that are incorporating biodegradable masks in their catalog . To date it is difficult to find the 'perfect material' and for this reason it is important to allocate resources to research in this field. Important! In addition to being sustainable, it is essential to ensure the main thing: any hygienic mask must offer us the maximum guarantees of safety and for this it is convenient that they comply with the UNE0065: 2020 standard. It will indicate this on the label.
7. The Ministry of Health does not advise the use of gloves in general
They can be useful in specific situations, such as in some jobs, if there are dermatological problems or handling food in the supermarket, as we have been doing until now. However, in general, handwashing with soap and water or, failing that, with hydroalcoholic gels is considered sufficient, since gloves can also offer a false sense of security . If someone has heard of 'recyclable gloves', in reality and to date, only those from certain specific brands that are responsible for their own recycling can be recycled, and always using protocols in professional settings.
What can we do Some of the measures that we can do individually are:
1. Prioritize the use of hygienic masks whenever possible based on the recommendations of the health authorities.
2. Choose hygienic masks of sustainable materials.
3. Do not wear gloves unless necessary.
4. Dispose of residues in the gray container or debris.
Far are the reflections of those who optimistically affirmed that of "nature is recovering its space". We have taken what it takes to go to phase 0 to face reality: those who have recovered their space are human beings with our (bad) habits and our general low sensitivity towards the planet. We need masks that are sustainable and mechanisms that favor recycling. The approval of a protection waste plan for Covid-19 is urgent. It is in our hands to change it, but the citizen cannot do it alone: we need industry and public administrations to articulate it.
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