COVID-19’s Mask Pollution

Updated: Mar 20


Face Mask production, face masks consumption, face mask loss, face mask solution, Green Firebreak, Mask Pollution, Reduce Plastic, Face Mask

This article will be the first of a four-part series entitled COVID-19’s Mask Pollution about face masks pollution, and the impact personal protective equipment (PPE) is inflicting on the environment, specifically the ocean.


COVID-19’s Mask Pollution will be mainly based on the report, Masks on the Beach: The Impact of COVID-19 on Marine Plastic Pollution, published by Hong-Kong based marine conservation organisation OceansAsia.


Manufacturing


We decided to begin with these masks’ production, so you could have a better understanding – in the following weeks - of the damage incorrectly discarded disposal masks are and will have in our environment. Also, it serves as the perfect take-off point.


According to this report, finding accurate data on masks production revealed to be a challenge. However, they put forward their best efforts and manage to encounter some interesting figures.

China, the leading manufacturer of PPE, outlines that daily production went from 20 million face masks to a soaring 110 million in February.

Reaching the 200-million-pieces-a-day mark by the end of March, and more than double in April with 450 million pieces being produced every day.


(Disclaimer: pre-pandemic, half the world’s masks were already being manufactured in China.)

Face Mask Production, Face Mask Factories, Reduce Plastic
Photo: Grimsby Live

Furthermore, South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are adapting their textile factories in order to produce face masks. Back in September, countries like Turkey were considering investing in “floating factories,” meaning the masks would be manufactured aboard a ship, reducing both production and shipping waiting time.


Demand


As the first lockdowns started to strike around the globe, face mask orders skyrocketed. In February US officials were foreseeing a need for 300 million masks yet by the end of April an order of 600 million was deemed inadequate to meet the amount required. Also in April, France and Japan were ordering 2 billion and 600 million face masks, respectively.


Reports indicate that China exported 3.86 billion face masks from 1st March to 1st April 2020. However, all over the world while demand was high, supply was still falling short.

Italy, one of the most disrupted countries by COVID-19, calculated that 1 billion masks plus 500 million gloves would be necessary monthly as the government lifted their lockdown restrictions.


A study led by a Portuguese University, published in mid-June, suggested that every month 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves would be required to safeguard the global population. This study was later adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO).


Face Mask Factories, Reduce Plastic
Photo: AFP/STR

Usage


According to a policy paper published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the lifespan of a face mask efficiency is about four hours, and on average a healthcare worker will go through two face masks a day.


When you take that into account, plus the fact WHO puts the number of healthcare workers worldwide up to 43 million, the numbers only add up.

Considering not every country is affected at the same rate and not all healthcare workers are in contact with COVID-19 patients, estimations round 28 million face masks per day. Which is equivalent to 840 million masks during a 30-day month. (these numbers exclude caregivers and the general population)


© Reuters. Factory in Icheon, South Korea

Face Mask Market


When it comes to the market of medical face masks, there is not a single doubt it is a “booming” one. In 2019, the global face mask market’s value rounded $0.79 billion; 2020 predictions predict a value of over $166 billion.


Reports show that a basic surgical mask that would sell for a couple of cents was being sold for as much as $1.25, and the price of a N95 mask went from $1.25 up to an exorbitant $25.



Stay Tuned


Next week we will be covering the consumption of single-use plastics, what actions, if any, governments are taking to deal with PPE waste and what are face masks really made of.