A report published by OceansAcia, an environmental group out of Hong Kong, warns that more than one billion face masks that were produced in 2020 will pollute oceans with plastic and harm marine wildlife.
"Single-use face masks are made from a variety of meltblown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both composition and risk of contamination and infection," states the report. "These masks enter our oceans when they are littered or otherwise improperly discarded, when waste management systems are inadequate or non-existent, or when these systems become overwhelmed due to increased volumes of waste."
According to the report, the nearly 7,000 tons of plastic that could pollute the oceans will take about 450 years to break down.
"This plastic does not ‘go away,' but rather accumulates, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces. Annually, it is estimated that marine plastic pollution kills 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates, and other marine life," said the report. "Plastic pollution also profoundly impacts coastal communities, fisheries, and economies. Conservative estimates suggest that it could cost the global economy $13 billion USD per year, and lead to a 1-5% decline in ecosystem services, at a value of between $500 to $2,500 billion USD."
Various animals have already died from the pollution of masks. For instance, a penguin was found dead with a mask wrapped up inside its stomach.
"The consequences of the large number of people who frequented the beaches of the North Coast of São Paulo on the extended holiday of September 7 may have cost the life of a Magellan penguin, whose cause of death is linked to a mask that was found inside his stomach," said OceansAsia.
The environmental group encourages people to wear reusable cloth masks whenever possible.