Gran Canaria leads alert over discarded face masks and gloves
Spain has sounded an urgent warning over a looming worldwide environmental disaster amidst fears that thousands of coronavirus face masks are already being thrown away in the sand, protected dunes, ditches and in the sea.
Environmentalists say wildlife is already
being affected by discarded masks which take 400 YEARS to degrade and “it
is all down to selfishness, not lack of information”.
Masks, as well as plastic gloves, have already
been seen floating along the Spanish coastline as sunbathers wear them on the
beach and then fail to take them home to put in special rubbish bags.
Councils across Spain have warned local
residents and tourists alike will be fined if spotted throwing a mask or gloves
on the ground and the penalty will range from 100 to 3,000 euros.
Workers disinfecting Spanish beaches overnight
and first thing in the morning to ensure they are coronavirus free are having
to dispose of old face masks and gloves littering the sand where children and
adults will later sit.
One of the islands in the Canaries, Gran
Canaria says it is already finding them on the protected dunes of Maspalomas
which have only been reopened for two weeks and had turned into the best
condition for 50 years due to the lack of visitors.
Island leaders say they cannot understand how
people can walk to the dunes and see their wide-open beauty for themselves yet
still don’t seem to have any qualms about throwing their masks down on the
sands. Many people are said to be flouting the coronavirus rules by heading for
the dunes to hold bottle parties and then leave all their rubbish, including
“The masks thrown in ditches and parking
lots will end up in the food chain and poisoning us, we will end up frying and
parboiling their pieces. It is not a lack of information, it is unsupportive
selfishness that causes a great impact,” said a spokesman. “It is not
only an environmental problem but a sanitary one because masks and gloves are
sources of infection. A mask takes no less than 400 years to degrade, and Gran
Canaria uses in the order of two million a week. The damage that is conferred
to the ecosystem is very important and also the disappearance of biodiversity
will have consequences for human life.”
One turtle being treated in the Gran Canaria
wildlife centre was found to have digested 150 pieces of plastic and there are
real fears that more will be injured or killed if eating or becoming entangled
by face masks or gloves.
The worries are being echoed by environmental
groups, including Ecologists in Action. The group has launched a special
campaign to promote washable and reusable face cloths from a special lab made
The current surgical masks are disposable and
should only be worn for four hours. They can’t be cleaned or reused. The groups
fear that with Spain about to order the compulsory use of face masks until at
least the autumn, there are going to be millions of them thrown away and not
put in the proper grey refuse bins.
“Is it possible to use daily hygienic
masks to protect our health and that of our loved ones, while protecting the
health of the environment? We believe so and that is why we have started this
project,” said a spokesman.
“Taking care of your health and taking
care of the health of your loved ones is not incompatible with taking care of
the health of the environment. That is why we propose the use of washable and
reusable fabric masks. If they are used and cleaned correctly, their
effectiveness in reducing contagions is effective and they lead to a drastic decrease
in the generation of waste.”
Greenpeace has also issued urgent warnings
about how to properly discard of masks and warn: “This shouldn’t be on the
ground! It is a matter of civility.”
A spokesman for the Spanish arm said:
“Throwing them on the ground, in addition to polluting our city and the
environment, can put at risk people of essential services, who have been taking
care of all of us while we were at home and who now continue to clean the
cities. It also puts our rivers and oceans at risk, since the rains and the
wind can drag them towards the sewage routes, ending up in the sea.”