Approx 1.56B Face Masks Entered Oceans in 2020

Our oceans will be polluted with an estimated 1.56 billion face masks in 2020, according to a report released by Hong Kong based marine conservation group OceansAsia. The face masks entering the marine environment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will constitute an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of plastic pollution.

The single-use face masks that wind up in our oceans are made from non-woven plastic materials such as polypropylene. Products made from similar materials are estimated to take approximately 450 years to break down, and the process of decomposition releases harmful microplastics into the water. 

“Marine plastic pollution is devastating our oceans,” says Gary Stokes, Operations Director of OceansAsia. “Plastic pollution kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates and other animals each year. It also negatively impacts fisheries and the tourism industry, and costs the global economy an estimated $13 billion USD per year.”

The study urges people to choose reusable face masks in an effort to curb ocean pollution, offering the following guidance: “When possible, individuals should choose to wear reusable masks and masks made from sustainable materials. Masks should always be disposed of responsibly. In general, individuals should strive to reduce their consumption of unnecessary single-use plastic, purchase from companies that offer these alternatives, and encourage other companies to reduce their use of plastic.”