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Improper Disposal of Masks Is Contributing Greatly to Ocean Pollution

Recent research by the University of Southern Denmark estimates that 129 billion masks are thrown away monthly across the planet

NBC Universal, Inc.

The use of PPE has been a necessity for our wellbeing since the COVID-19 pandemic started, but sadly, not everyone is keen to discard them properly, and these actions are having a severe impact on our oceans.

At the beach, this has become the new normal, with an ever-increasing number of masks washing ashore constantly.

"The pandemic has been terrible on all accounts, and we highly encourage people to continue wearing masks," said Seth Bloomgarden, the chair of the Miami chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. "But when they do so, they have to take an extra step of responsibility. We're seeing more and more masks being disposed of on our beaches, on our streets, in our parks. And, you know, this is a big problem."

A lot of the trash that people with the foundation find on the ground traditionally ends up in the sewers, canals, and eventually ends up in our oceans, said Jayson Koch, vice president of Surfrider Miami.

Recently, a research by the University of Southern Denmark estimates that 129 billion masks are thrown away monthly across the planet -- and they may even release damaging chemicals such as heavy metals and pathogens into the environment.

"We really advocate for minimizing the use of any kind of single-use plastic ... as it breaks down into our oceans and waterways, is a tremendous hazard to marine life," Bloomgarden said. "It's killed numerous species of marine life. It actually gets into the cells of marine life. People end up eating this."

It is estimated that 1.5 billion face masks will eventually accumulate in the ocean, contributing to near 6,500 tons of additional plastic waste.

"So the whole idea here is really to minimize to the greatest extent possible, the use of single-use plastics," Bloomgarden said. "And please, please make sure you dispose of them properly and don't bring them with you to the beach."

In their endeavor to preserve the oceans, Surfrider Miami launched the Blue Water Task Force, which tests water quality along the coast from Broward County to Key Biscayne every week. They continue organizing regular beach clean-ups following Covd guidelines and with a reduced number of participants.

"Adults, families, kids can participate and help clean up all the trash that we may find on the streets that would traditionally end up on our beach and then in the ocean," Koch said.

"What we really need is people to stop throwing their trash up on the beach," Bloomgarden said. "We need people to enforce the existing laws, the existing litter laws, and strengthen those laws so that we discourage people from disposing all of their trash on the beach. If we don't take action now, our beautiful paradise is going to suffer in the years to come."

Access the Surfrider Foundation's Blue Water Task Force results here. Find out how to volunteer and participate in beach clean-ups here.

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