The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has been providing special waste bins for facemasks, together with waste disposal bags at about 1,000 spots in public places.
But many regard this measure as tokenism; with such bins being inaccessible to the majority of the vast Bangkok metropolis, let alone the remainder of the country, with little attention or advice being given to the issue of facemask disposal.
The BMA has urged the public to properly and correctly dispose of their used facemasks and avoid mixing them with general household waste. Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang is urging people to dispose of used facemasks and tissues in a proper manner by using the new bins which are designated for hazardous waste.
“Used facemasks must be put in a plastic bag fastened with a string or a rubber band before putting them in the bins to prevent the spread of Covid-19, this also includes facial tissue used to wipe noses or bodily fluids.”
“If possible, put a label or sign on bags containing hazardous waste so that garbage staff can dispose of them properly, hazardous waste in Bangkok will be separated and disposed of in incinerators at specialised facilities in Nong Khaem and On Nut districts.”
Previously in In January, the Pollution Control Department outlined steps for proper disposal of non-reusable facemasks.
“Facemasks used by used by the general public in their daily life should be cut or torn apart before being thrown away to prevent reuse.
Used facemasks should be put in a separate garbage bag from general waste and be dumped at designated points for used facemasks in your community. Most importantly, avoid having used facemasks in your home for more than seven days.
For people who are in self-quarantine at home to monitor their symptoms, put used facemasks in a double layer of garbage bags, then tie the bag tightly with a string and label the bag ‘Used Sanitary Facemasks’, before dumping it at designated points for used facemask in your community.
Office or business venues should follow the same protocol as self-quarantine persons, but they should pour some disinfectant or bleach over used face masks before tying the bag with a string.”
This advice may be very valid, but it remains generally disregarded, with the ‘designated places’, unknown to most in the general community.
THE ENVIRONMENT’S ‘NEW PLASTIC BOTTLE’?
Apart from concerns about attempts to recycle, some have said the disposable facemask is the ‘new plastic bottle’. Estimates say globally we are using 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month.
Another reason to cut-up the masks, including the attached strings, is the danger, already realised, of marine creatures or birds becoming entangled after facemasks have littered waterways and the ocean.
The environmental cost of throwing away billions of single-use masks every month is harrowing. The WWF says: “If only 1% of the world’s facemasks are disposed of incorrectly, 10 million masks will still end up polluting fragile ecosystems every month. Considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams, this would entail the dispersion of over 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature’’.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) has advised on mask disposal specifically: advising removal from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discarding immediately in a closed bin and washing hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Despite reusable versions being available, the quality and regular washing of them cannot be certain, which means many companies opt-in for disposable masks for safety reasons. However for individuals who are not required to change masks regularly, the most eco-friendly option is a reusable mask.
Machine washable masks are widely available online and are a way to minimise the environmental impact. Health experts recommend having more than one mask and washing reusable masks after each use.