The country’s coral reefs, where fish and other marine life find shelter and reproduce, are currently littered with face masks and plastic waste, according to a report released by the BBC News on March 9. The report included a video that showed professional divers collecting face masks among the garbage they found underwater. The divers’ garbage haul also included plastic face shields.
Environmental groups have expressed concern that the polymers in the single-use face masks and plastic shields are already being consumed by fish and other marine life that seek shelter in coral reefs. How these medical waste reached our coral reefs was not discussed in the BBC report. What is clear, however, is that these face masks and face shields were improperly disposed.
Citing the Asian Development Bank, the BBC report noted that Metro Manila alone generates about 280 tons of medical waste a day. That’s 280,000 kilograms of face masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment that are dumped by both individuals and health-care facilities daily. Health-care centers send their medical waste to facilities that know how to handle these PPEs; the problem lies in individual users who are not aware of the proper management of medical waste.
Since the pandemic started, environmental organizations have already warned about the tons of medical waste that will be generated by cities (See, “Amid Covid, proper disposal of medical waste flagged,” in the BusinessMirror, July 22, 2020). The Department of Health had also warned hospitals that they face sanctions if they will not follow the regulations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) related to the disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. In July last year, the Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment also called on authorities to educate the public on how to properly dispose face masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment.
The DENR and local government units must work together to raise awareness about the importance of the proper disposal of face masks and face shields to prevent medical waste from reaching our coral reefs.
The DENR has called on local government units anew to ramp up efforts in handling and disposal of medical waste to ensure health and environmental safety amid the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, LGUs must do their part in educating their constituents about the importance of the proper disposal of medical waste so that individual users will not have to throw single-use face masks in esteros and street canals. Government must act with urgency considering the fact that medical waste will continue to pile up due to rising Covid-19 cases.
These single-use facemasks and face shields are silent killers of our seas and marine life (See, “The Plastic Pandemic,” in the BusinessMirror, October 11, 2018). Government must do everything it can to see to it that these medical waste do not reach our coral reefs. That’s because they transport chemical pollutants that threaten aquatic life. Let’s help keep our coral reefs clean. Let’s avoid polluting our ocean, which will endanger marine life. A clean ocean means clean seafood. Nobody wants to eat fish fed with medical waste.