"For some weeks we’ve been observing a growing number of masks thrown on the ground, and with major rains of spring 2020 they end up in the sea … We are very concerned about this proliferation of disposable masks and gloves due to the pandemic," the MerTerre NGO director, Isabelle Poitou, said.
Poitou explained that litter involving used personal protective equipment is a potential contamination threat.
"Their function is to protect people from catching the virus from other people, and therefore they are potentially the virus carriers … Those who throw them away are responsible for the sanitary risks they bear for those who will pick them up," Poitou argued.
According to the NGO founder, the plastic cannot be considered a safe material, as scientific research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the virus can live from 3-7 days on plastic, compared to one day on carton.
"Certainly, the masks isolate, but if they are infected, they have a much higher power of transmission than any other natural or synthetic fabric … And the scale of the spread of these new non-biodegradable, durable and potentially infected objects is already catastrophic," she said.
In addition, this unprecedented spread of medical waste is having an impact on the environment.
"It increases the pollution of nature environment, such as watercourse, and sea waters. The masks and the gloves that end up in the marine environment will have the impact on the flora and fauna (entanglement, ingestion, intoxication; many decades of degradation of micro-plastic, which gets into the living organisms – and with time in our organisms). The environmental price of litter and the price of restoring the natural environment is as high as the revenues of private enterprises," Poitou warned.
In late May, Laurent Lombard, the founder of French Mediterranean environmental organization Operation Clean Sea, told Sputnik that medical masks and disposable gloves widely used across the world as protective means amid the pandemic may result in seas and oceans polluted with non-degradable and non-recyclable material and grow into a global problem.