Pandemic trail: how to clear the planet of masks?

(ORDO NEWS) — The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected all spheres of life, hitting the environment as well. Disposable masks and gloves have become a new type of trash. The problem of their utilization has also affected our country. Back in late December, President Vladimir Putin noted that the Russian waste collection system and operators were not ready for such an increase in volume. How to deal with a new type of pollution now?

The masks were recognized as an ecological time bomb: they decompose for 500 years. The introduction of the mask mode due to the coronavirus pandemic has already affected the environment.

A true symbol of the outgoing year: here it is on the pavement of St. Peter’s Square in the heart of Rome, and here it is high in the Altai mountains. Here – at the bottom of the World Ocean: a three-layer disposable mask.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there were barely enough of them even for hospitals; people were ready to pay huge money for packaging for themselves and their families. As a matter of urgency, the countries of the world deployed production so that the masks would be enough for everyone. At that time no one thought about their disposal.

During the pandemic, our planet also managed to get seriously ill. A few figures: in 2019, the market for medical masks in the world reached a very impressive $ 800 million. A serious figure – however, next to the estimates for 2020 it somehow fades: more than 160 billion dollars – 200 times more!

In Russia alone, about 10 million disposable masks are now sent to the trash cans every day. We produce about the same amount. How much humanity has produced personal protective equipment since the start of the pandemic is not exactly calculated, but given the volume of consumption and exports, the figure is probably hovering around the 1 trillion mark. In kilograms, this is 12 million tons – one and a half thousand Eiffel Towers, 6 million fashionable electric vehicles and 75 billion iPhones of the latest model.

“The pandemic has given us a new type of waste. Basically, of course, these are masks. Masks are now becoming an alternative in our country, competing with plastic bags in the ocean – we know, whole islands are made of plastic,” says Rashid Ismailov, head of the Russian Ecological Society.

Medical waste is a very specific thing. It is quite difficult to work with them. Even ordinary masks, and they belong to class “B” waste, are first disinfected in hospitals outside of a pandemic – they kill all microorganisms on them. Then they neutralize – this is the name of the process of removing chemical compounds. Only then they are burned, and the ash is taken to landfills.

In the context of a pandemic all over the world, personal protective equipment was in fact simply equated with municipal solid waste and is taken to ordinary landfills – this is at best. The lion’s share falls into rivers and oceans, where, according to scientists, they will disintegrate for more than one century.

Green plans around the world have been adjusted for economic reasons. They cut all the budgets they can. And those budgets that are directed towards the future are just the most vulnerable, “says the editor-in-chief of the journal Ecology and Life, Alexander Samsonov.

Experts from the waste processing industry are now actively working with Russian lawmakers. The first problem is to bring two sets of laws to a common denominator. The rules for handling municipal waste are regulated by environmental legislation. And with medical – sanitary standards.

In order to carry out the disinfection procedure, the medical waste must first be collected separately. To do this, it is proposed to install special garbage cans in cities – only under masks and gloves. The next step is to determine how and where to burn them. New factories will probably be built for this task. Alas, without capital investments, it will hardly be possible to solve the problem. But it must be solved.


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