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Over 1.5 BILLION Face Masks Now Believed to Be Polluting Oceans Thanks to 2020

Disposable face masks can take more than 450 years to break down.

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As 2020 draws to a close, one of the most recognizable symbols of the year may be the protective face mask.

As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe earlier this year, billions of people began wearing the face coverings, with one study estimating that no less than 129 billion face masks were being used every month around the world.

However, as face masks have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, they’ve also grown to litter every corner of our neighborhoods, from storm drains to creeks, parks to beaches.

And now, it turns out that our oceans are swimming with face masks, according to a new report from marine conservation NGO OceansAsia.

“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it’s very difficult to move,” Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the group’s director of research, told Denver 7.

“The fact that we are starting to find masks that are breaking up indicates that this is a real problem, that microplastics are being produced by masks,” Bondaroff said.

The Hong Kong-based group estimates that some 1.56 billion face masks will have flooded our oceans in 2020 alone – a grim statistic that they have witnessed firsthand since face masks began washing up on a small island off the coast of the Chinese mega-city since the start of the pandemic.

The masks could become yet another major contributor to the ongoing crisis of plastic pollution in our ocean, with disposable face masks taking as long as 450 years to break down.

The single-use masks that are recommended by health authorities and used as personal protective equipment in hospitals across the world are made of multiple layers of polypropylene, which are thin fibers of plastic.

And with 52 billion masks being manufactured in this year, with the average weight of each single-use polypropylene surgical face mask being 3 to 4 grams, we could be looking at anywhere from 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of new marine plastic pollution.

Ocean pollution has already reached such monstrous proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.

In recent years, ocean biologists and conservationists have expressed alarm over the growing problem of plastics and microplastics inundating the world’s oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic drink containers trapping and confining — and ultimately killing — marine wildlife.

“The question that we couldn’t answer was how many [masks] are entering our oceans? We just didn’t know,” Dr. Bondaroff said.

OceansAsia’s recent study could offer some alarming clues as to the extent of the pollution, however.

“The 1.56 billion face masks that have entered our oceans in 2020 are there for the long run,” he said. “They will remain in the ocean for 450 years or more, and they’ll break into smaller pieces.”

The report notes that the global sales force of face masks has grown exponentially, increasing from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020.

The surging sales come as health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued official health guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a face mask in public in lieu of or in addition to physical distancing measures meant to help prevent person-to-person transmission of the deadly disease.

“That’s important, we need to keep people safe, but at the same time that has a lasting impact on our environment, and we’re seeing that on the beaches,” Bondaroff added.

The report requests that the public wear reusable masks when possible while also disposing of masks properly as a step toward drawing down overall consumption of single-use plastics.

The group also calls on authorities to encourage the use of reusable masks, including releasing guidelines on the proper manufacture and use of reusable masks, while also educating the public about responsibly disposing of masks, among other measures.

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Environment

Rare Snowfall in Sahara Desert Covers Sand Dunes in Ice

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Known primarily for being a searing and sandy wasteland, a part of the Sahara Desert has been blanketed in snowfall – an exceedingly rare, and dazzling, winter spectacle in the treacherous dunes of the desert.

On Monday, the sands surrounding the Algerian town of Ain Sefra were covered in the white powder after the area’s temperature plummeted far below freezing, reports the Daily Mail.

While the town has seen brutal heat that’s reached up to 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperatures reached the frosty depths of below 28 degrees Fahrenheit in recent days due to a high-pressure system of cold air that has moved into the region.

The resulting snowfall resulted in “stunning patterns” being strewn across the sandy expanse, according to the report.

Brilliant photos of the event were captured by photographer Karim Bouchetata, who travelled to the North African locale, which has been dubbed the “Gateway to the Sahara” and is surrounded by the Atlas Mountains some 3,000 feet above sea level.

Prior snowfall is only known to have occurred four times in the past 42 years: in 1979, 2016, 2018 and 2021.

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The Notorious ‘Gateway to Hell’ May Finally Be Sealed, Turkmenistan’s President Says

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The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan has long been host to what has been dubbed the “Gateway to Hell” – a massive hole in the ground that has been smoldering for about five decades.

However, the country’s government is now moving to finally extinguish the blazing natural Darvaza gas crater which lies in the center of the huge Karakum desert.

This isn’t the first time that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has spoken of extinguishing the so-called portal to the underworld. In 2010, the strongman leader also ordered that experts investigate how best to put out the flames, which have been raging since a mishandled Soviet drilling expedition in 1971.

To prevent a disaster resulting from the spread of dangerous fumes, Soviet authorities decided it would be best to burn off the gas by setting it alight.

As a result, the 229-foot (70 meter) wide and 65-foot (20-meter) deep crater has been ablaze ever since, drawing tourists to the former Soviet country.

In 2018, the government officially renamed the pit the “Shining of Karakum.”

This week, Berdymukhamedov decried how the gas crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby,” reports AFP.

“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people,” he added in the televised statement, noting that officials must “find a solution to extinguish the fire.”

Turkmenistan is known to possess the fourth-largest known reserve of natural gas in the world, reports VICE, and its economy is dependent on the export of the raw resource.

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