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How discarded Corona-virus plastic waste is polluting environment

by Achadu Gabriel, Kaduna

Side views of COVID-19 disposables

Environmental experts have expressed concern over the manner Covid-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are indiscriminately disposed without recognising the health implications to the generality of the public and environmental pollution.

A recent survey by a non-governmental organization, ‘African Climate Reporters,’ has revealed that a large numbers of used facemasks, hand gloves and plastic bottles of hand sanitizers littered the streets of many states. 

The experts cautioned that such wastes, especially hand sanitizers, plastic bottles, if not properly disposed, will in the short term cause pollution to the environment, as these would increase the burden of waste in the society.

A science climatologist, Dr. Piman Hoffman, in a statement made available to newsmen, harps on the need for the federal, state governments and stakeholders to raise more campaign on ways to deal with COVID-19 wastes that is threatening the environment. 

He said the wastes, emanated from COVID-19 PPE on the streets, is increasing on daily; hence all hands must be on deck to start educating, enlightening and sensitizing the general public on the dangers associated with it.

According to him, “Coronavirus wastes has become a new form of environmental pollution, as a single use the Personal Protective Equipment floods our gutters and streams.” 

The Assistant Director of African Climate Reporters also said that the citizens need to turn a new leaf and discontinue the attitude to avert the spread of wastes in the environment. 

He added that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that, 89 million medical masks will be required every month amidst the coronavirus outbreak. 

The fear, according to him, is that despite a temporary crash in carbon emissions as a result of lockdown, which meant fewer people travelling and less industrial activities, there are concerns the pandemic will divert government’s attention away from “green horn” issues and the fight against desertification and climate change. 

In the same vein, national president of Metro Environmental and Awareness Initiative, Comrade Jibril Suleiman, harped on sensitization of the public on the dangers and implications of improper disposal of used coronavirus PPE on the environment. 

He cautioned that, “The fact is hundreds of used gloves and facemasks are daily disposed indiscriminately, and most of them usually dumped into gutters and others in trash cites. This is another big pollution problem that could disturb the environment in future.” 

In his view, now is the time for government to act to ensure a green recovery that incentivizes sustainability, pointing out that most facemasks contain or, are made of, polypropylene, which does not break down quickly.

“COVID-19 has had a number of unexpected impacts on the environment, curtailing recycling and increasing the use of plastic around the world.

“Marine plastic pollution is a serious problem. It is estimated that every year, over eight million tones of plastic enter the oceans. This plastic does not disappear; rather slowly breaks down into micro-plastic, which enters food chains with devastating effects,” he said. 

Another concern is that face-masks might become a new medium for spread of the novel coronavirus in Nigeria in view of high risks of self and environmental contamination when masks are used and disposed inappropriately.

Similarly, medical experts have advocated for scientific way for disposing used masks and gloves, in order to save the environment from the health implication of dumping discarded corona-virus mask waste in open places or the streets.

A micro-biologist, Samson John, says there is need to raise more awareness to the public on health implication of throwing away discarded mask on the streets by people moving on bikes, commercial vehicles and other places of public gathering.

This, he noted that, is really unfortunate that, despite being informed through various media outlets about health hazards of dumping waste in open places, especially in the current scenario of rapid spread of coronavirus pandemic, discarded masks were seen dumped on streets and roads, while some were seen on the stream and gutter.

“‘We must change our character of dumping trash on roads before it will cause us another disaster.

“We must know that, discarded masks are biggest potential carriers of coronavirus; hence the need to educate the public on dangers associated with throwing away Covid-19 face-masks anywhere on the roads, public places, etc.”

The expert suggested that there should be a way of sensitizing the public on ways to hand over discarded masks and gloves to garbage collectors in a mature way.

Also, the national president of “National Volunteer Group on Covid-19,” Comrade Yusuf Idris Amoke, highlighted the importance of educating the general public as one of the ways to reduce the number of discarded Covid-19 masks on the streets,” while stressing that masks and gloves should be disposed of in a scientific manner to protect the environment.

“The used masks and gloves should be cut-into pieces before disposal, in order to avert children picking them up on the streets,” he said, and also urged the general public not to be mixing discarded masks & gloves with dry and wet waste.

He is drawing the attention of authorities to impose heavy penalties on all those, who are found throwing the masks or any bio-waste (gloves, PPEs) in open places or public gatherings.

“We are afraid that, the Covid-19 pandemic could further threaten to exacerbate the scourge of plastic pollution across the world.

In further explanation, the expert stated, thus: “It should be noted that, every year, approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide ,with more than 8 million entering oceans annually, which is affecting the entire ecosystems of oceanic animals.”

In another development, the Director of African Climate Reporter, Comrade Nurudden Bello, who is also a specialist on micro-organism, has explained proper ways of disposing discarded Covid-19 face-masks, in order to halt the spread of the pandemic.

During a chat with Kaduna journalists, Bello said that there is a proper way of disposing already used face-masks and gloves to prevent infection among garbage collectors and the environment.

Accordingly, he also stated that there are some vital things to consider before disposing the collected waste, which include placing waste bin for collection before taking it to dump center, while emphasizing on knowing the mode of transportation of the disease, and advised that, when disposing them there are other things to consider, which involve “how do we collect it, transport it and discard it?”

Nurudden noted that, medical institutions must ensure that waste disposal is done in a way and manner that does not pose a health risk nor create opportunities for the spread of the virus, saying, “The last option is through burning it to avert spreading into the environment.” 

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