Environmentalists concerned about pollution created by disposable masks

Apr 23, 2021

This Earth Day, environmentalists called attention to the pollution caused by disposable face masks.

The marine conservation organization Oceans Asia estimates that 1.5 billion of them ended up in the world's oceans in 2020. Most disposable masks are made from multiple types of plastic.

"It makes it virtually impossible to actually recycle, so it's very difficult to dispose of in an environmentally friendly manner," said Mike Waller, Rochester Regional Health's director of sustainability.

Waller recommends that people choose reusable masks when possible or opt for disposable masks made from natural fibers such as hemp.

Hospitals and other health care settings rely on disposable masks that have been tested to meet certain safety standards.

"The biggest requirement in health care is to prove that, say, blood which is accidentally sprayed on the mask won't seep through to the person that's wearing it," Waller said.

Environmental experts urge people to cut the ear loops off their masks before throwing them in the trash. Sea turtles, birds and other marine wildlife can become entangled in the loops.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown urged city residents Thursday to help reduce their carbon footprint by participating in many initiatives for this Earth Day and beyond.

The mayor mentioned curbside recycling and yard waste collection, plus food scrap, tire and e-waste drop offs as ways to take part. Residents can also donate clothing and have appliances repaired through the Dare to Repair program.

More information is available here.

WBFO's Mark Wozniak contributed to this story.