EcoWaste Coalition Insists Proper Disposal of Used Face Masks Should Form Part of the Minimum Public Health Standards amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases

Littered face masks found in Baseco Beach, Manila. ECOWASTE COALITION

 18 March 2021, Quezon City.  As COVID-19 cases in the country continue to swell, a waste and pollution watchdog pressed the government to duly integrate the proper disposal of used face masks as part of the minimum public health standards (MPHS) that all citizens should observe.

Through a press statement, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to expand the anti-COVID MPHS being propagated by the authorities to include the safe disposal of used face masks and other COVID-related discards.

Resolution No. 102 issued by the IATF last March 11 provides for stricter MPHS to arrest the surge in COVID-19 cases, but overlooks the need for proper disposal of used face masks and other common protective stuff,  the group said.

On the level of individuals, the following measures are to be observed as per Resolution No. 102: a) wearing of face masks and face shields appropriately; b) increasing the frequency in hand-washing for at at least twenty (20) seconds each time; c) ensuring the observance of social distancing and proper ventilation, and reducing time of interaction, if any; and f) reinforcing correct information on COVID-19.

Littered face masks found in Rosario, Cavite. ECOWASTE COALITION
“We strongly suggest that used face masks, face shields and other protective materials should be safely managed and disposed of at all times.  This should also form part of the MPHS to safeguard public health and the environment from these potentially infectious discards, which are also polluting our streets and oceans,” said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

The recent discovery of discarded face masks entangled in the coral reefs of Anilao, Batangas should have prompted the IATF, the EcoWaste Coalition said, into instituting measures to ensure that used masks and other COVID-19 waste do not end up contaminating and harming marine life.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu had earlier said “the recent discovery of disposable face masks, plastic face shields, and other household healthcare wastes in our reefs is alarming. These wastes will harm both marine life and divers."

The EcoWaste Coalition also emphasized the urgency of cities and municipalities adopting new or strengthening existing ordinances that will forbid and penalize the improper disposal of soiled face masks and other COVID-related waste.

“Local ordinances, if effectively enforced, will encourage citizens to safely manage and dispose of COVID-related waste instead of throwing them anywhere and everywhere,” said Benosa.

At the very least, used face masks should be wrapped on a used paper and discarded in a closed yet separate bin, must be properly labeled, and not simply thrown on the streets where they can end up in storm drains and eventually into the rivers and oceans.

The improper disposal of used face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) can also put waste workers, including street sweepers, trash haulers and waste pickers, at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, which can remain in inanimate objects for days, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

To reduce the consumption and disposal of single-use face masks, the group suggested non-medical frontliners should opt for reusable cloth masks as these  can be washed and safely reused.

“By opting for reusable or washable face masks, we avoid generating non-biodegradable and non-recyclable garbage that only adds to the worsening plastic pollution crisis,” Benosa said, stressing that “limiting people’s use of medical-grade masks will ensure adequate and steady supply for individuals who need them the most.”