Humanity is sleepwalking into another disaster, thanks to a trend that’s emerged amid the pandemic

Face masks being produced in a factory
Support us and go ad-free

Everyone, apart from UK health secretary Matt Hancock on occasion, understands what a vital shield personal protective equipment (PPE) is from coronavirus (Covid-19). But it appears that many people have forgotten the other, immense existential threat to their survival – the climate crisis – amid the panic. Because people are carelessly discarding their face masks and plastic gloves. This waste will ultimately end up in our oceans, our green spaces, and across our lands.

Tackling plastic pollution, particularly in our oceans, plays a major part in addressing the climate crisis. Plastics in our waters are devastating wildlife. As the Marine Conservation Institute points out:

The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth, it is the planet’s life support system. Oceans generate half of the oxygen we breathe and, at any given moment, they contain more than 97% of the world’s water…

Living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce climate change impacts. The diversity and productivity of the world’s oceans is a vital interest for humankind. Our security, our economy, our very survival all require healthy oceans.

So we’re sleepwalking into another disaster if we sacrifice more of the natural world by acting recklessly amid the pandemic.

Raising the alarm

Environmentalists raised the alarm about discarded PPE as people shared images on social media using the hashtag #TheGloveChallenge, started by Mariajose Algarra of Clean This Beach Up.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

As OceansAsia reported in February:

During a recent survey trip to the Soko’s islands [a group of islands close Hong Kong’s Lantau Island] the OceansAsia team finds masses of surgical masks washing up on the shoreline. …

Over time the team has seen the odd mask here and now, however this time they were all along the high tide line and foreshore with new arrivals coming in on the current.

Speaking to the Independent, co-founder of OceansAsia Gary Stokes commented:

The way I see these masks in the environment is just another addition to the ever-growing marine debris crisis our oceans are facing. No better, no worse, just shouldn’t be there in the first place. I’m waiting to hear of the first necropsy that finds masks inside a dead marine animal. It’s not a question of if, but when.

Meanwhile, founder of the Hong Kong-based group Plastic Free Seas Tracey Read told Reuters:

People think they’re protecting themselves but it’s not just about protecting yourselves, you need to protect everybody and by not throwing away the mask properly, it’s very selfish.

Learning lessons

Plastics are a major scourge on our environment. As Brooke Bauman pointed out in Yale Climate Connections, they “originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave”. They are largely made from fossil fuels and are “greenhouse-gas intensive” during production. Dealing with plastic waste is also polluting, especially when it’s incinerated. Of course, much of our plastic waste ends up in the natural world, with grave consequences for wildlife and, ultimately, humanity, which depends on healthy ecosystems.

Damaging our environment further because of recklessness amid the pandemic is beyond short-sighted. Especially as many suspect the pandemic itself is a consequence of our self-centred and foolhardy interaction with the natural world.

Instead, let’s learn the lessons our world is forcing us to currently endure. Respect and care towards the planet, not recklessness and mindless exploitation, is the way forward.

Featured image via blueplanetsurf/YouTube

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Ok, yes I wholeheartedly support the views of this article, but really, is this the time?
      People are worried about dying right here right now, and tossing away PPE waste or not is a tiny addition to a huge ongoing problem. When people are worried about their lives and those of their families I think it’s understandable that they become a little selfish. It is far more real to people than global pollution.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.