Following the World Health Organization’s formal declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world quickly mandated the use of face masks in public spaces.
This led to a massive demand shock, prompting factories to begin producing disposable masks at full capacity. The majority of these masks were produced in China, and in April 2020, the country reported a staggering daily production figure of 450 million masks.
Plastic Pollution: A Lesser Known Side Effect
In Ocean Asia’s 2020 report, Masks on the Beach, researchers developed a formula to provide reasonable estimates for the number of disposable masks entering the environment.
Given an annual production figure of 52 billion disposable masks and a loss rate of 3% (the percentage of masks that escape water management systems), Visual Capitalist's Marcus Lu notes that the team concluded that nearly 1.6 billion face masks wound up in our oceans in 2020. This amounts to approximately 5,500 tons of plastic pollution.
The pandemic has extended well into 2021, and the number of disposable masks polluting our oceans is likely to continue growing.
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