The French non-profit Opération Mer Propre, which regularly picks up litter along the Côte d’Azur, has warned against a surge of what Joffrey Peltier of the organisation describes as ‘Covid waste’.
The group found dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitiser floating in the Mediterranean Sea, mixed in with the usual debris of plastic cups and aluminium cans. While the numbers currently aren’t vast, the worry is that an increasing amount of Covid waste will end up in the ocean if nothing is done to to properly dispose of the huge amount of single-use plastic used to fight the pandemic.
“It’s the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done,” said Peltier.
Knowing that more than two billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean, Laurent Lonbard, of Opération Mer Propre, wrote on social media. He added that it is the responsibility of everyone to avoid this new pollution but also our elected officials, MPs and public authorities.
Opération Mer Propre hopes that their images will encourage people to invest in reusable masks and swap latex gloves for more frequent handwashing. “With all the alternatives, plastic isn’t the solution to protect us from Covid. That’s the message,” Peltier said to The Guardian.
“The wearing of the mask which is becoming widespread in the name of the principle of health precaution, should not pose more problems than it solves,” said Éric Pauget, a politician whose region includes the Côte d’Azur, in an letter to French President Emmanuel Macron. “These masks passing from sidewalks in streams, will inevitably end up in nature or in the sea. Besides, with a lifespan 450 years old, this equipment constitutes veritable ecological time bombs given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet.”
Every year, approximately 570,000 tonnes of plastic flows into the Mediterranean, and up to 13 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the global oceans, according to a 2018 estimate by UN Environment. There is a great deal of potential for these figures to increase exponentially as the world turns to single-use plastics in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Photographs courtesy of Opération Mer Propre, via Facebook.
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