MUSCAT: Donning a face mask has become a habit thanks to stiff penalties but we are yet to learn to properly discard them. As single-use face masks are not recyclable, they should be properly put in bins or sealed in zipper bags before disposing.
Dumping used masks and gloves in beaches, streets and pavements pose serious health hazards not only to humans, but also to the environment, especially marine life.
In the Sultanate, except for littering, no harsh penalties or fines are imposed on indiscriminate disposal of personal protection equipment (PPE). Instead, the authorities are making efforts to create awareness among people about the adverse effect from the menace.
The Ministry of Health, Muscat Municipality, the Environment Authority, along with other entities have been emphasizing on the need for proper disposal of face masks, gloves, body suits to avoid harming public health.
The Ministry of Health is pursuing best practices to manage medical waste to achieve the intended goals of this programme by developing plans and policies, as well as unifying all efforts to preserve the safety of everyone from risk of exposure through training and raising awareness among health workers.
Be'ah, the state-owned waste management company, has circulated to all health institutions in the Sultanate the importance of following guidelines for separating the waste related to COVID-19 from the rest of the medical waste in accordance with the latest international standards recommended by the WHO.
It is also taking all the precautionary procedures to ensure health and safety of personnel dealing with healthcare waste.
Along with the authorities, several social media users have also started voicing their concern and anger over tossing masks and gloves in public places.
“It’s great everyone’s staying protected, but please dispose of your gloves and masks properly in the litter bins after you’re done with them, not in the parking lot or other places. Someone, somewhere will have to clean up after you— let’s take care of each other,” reads a Facebook post.
Their ire was expressive in some of the twitter posts, "Please stop littering, this is making more work and worry for the people having to pick up this trash, “Don’t be thoughtless,” “Don’t leave your face masks and gloves in the shopping carts or parking slots...”
With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading unabated, the spotlight is now on medical waste treatment management and how effective their measures are. While health institutions and private waste management companies are already stepping up their coronavirus-specific decontamination services, it is also equally important for governments to step up and find solutions quickly against the environmental impact of the pandemic.
Face masks and gloves are often found floating on the sea threatening the marine environment; some are left behind by beach users, others are washed in by the waves.
To this, nature lovers expressed their concern with tweets like, “This is a growing environmental hazard. The PPE is intended to help us fight a public health challenge, not create a plastic pollution problem”.
According to Earth.org, the disposal of masks along with other items in the PPE, empty hand sanitizer bottles and soiled tissue papers will lead to a massive trail of clinical waste in the environment.
Used masks and gloves add to an already significant problem: At least eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year, making up 80 per cent of all marine debris.
According to the WHO’s health guidelines, soiled tissues and used face masks must be thrown only into lidded litter bins, while any medical gear used by affected patients and hospital staff must be sterilised and burnt at high temperatures in dedicated incinerators.
Having said, it is each individual’s responsibility to follow the necessary guidelines while disposing of their masks and other medical gear. After all, it is only through mutual empathy and goodwill that we will see the world emerge stronger from this global pandemic.