How Much Does the Coronavirus Mask Cost the Environment?

Where do self-tests and disposable masks end up? 

Coronavirus mask

Self-test, masks, and antiseptic bottles. What are the effects of these plastics on the ecosystem and how many of them are recycled?

For the last two years humanity has been called upon to face a new deadly virus and with it new habits. Masks, shields, self-tests, antiseptics, and gloves have become an indispensable part of household life, although they are not provided with the instructions for how they should be disposed of and recycled. It is estimated that more than 26,000 tons of plastic have polluted the seas and oceans since the beginning of the pandemic, with the plastic apparently “choking” the ecosystem, as published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We will discuss further how much the Coronavirus mask and testing kits cost the environment.

Research on how the Coronavirus Mask and Test Kits Cost the Environment 

According to the latest information of the Ministry of Health, in Greece since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a total of about 108,000,000 self-test devices have been distributed to approximately 7.8 million citizens.

A diagnostic test kit includes the plastic test strip, a cotton swab, the extraction tube with the buffer, and the rest of the package.

As Eleni Stromboula, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Hydraulics at the School of Civil Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), explains in, the substance contained in the buffer is called ethoxylated octyl- Concern) ie substances that are of great concern for their toxicity.

The use of this substance is intended only as part of an in vitro diagnostic procedure and under controlled conditions, in accordance with REACH (Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Licensing and Restrictions of Chemicals).

How do self-tests affect the environment?

Ms. Stromboula explains that “it is still impossible to truly assess the impact of in the community.”

Coronavirus cost the environment

“In addition to the tests, masks, protective gloves, and bottles are now available in large quantities.”

“Apart from the tests, now, in large quantities, there are also masks, protective gloves, bottles of antiseptic liquids, and other products that are widely used during this period and are discarded uncontrollably. However, in order to say whether a substance or material (which after its use will become waste and in this case micro-waste) is a threat to the environment, we must first examine its entire course until its disposal “, he explains.

What importance does quantity have?

According to Ms. Stromboula, the necessary measurements should be made to see whether or not the waste of self-tests is toxic or contagious and to what extent, something that takes time while the information and action should be immediate.

“What applies to toxicology is that ‘the dose makes the poison.’ This means that despite the fact that the amount of the substance in the solvent for a package to be used at home is very small and does not appear to pose a risk in the case of transdermal contact. If found in large quantities in the environment, it can have adverse effects when it comes into contact with the eye or mucosa,

“Nevertheless, again, the necessary measurements must be made in order to see whether this substance enters the groundwater or the soil, whether it is biodegradable or not, as well as the extent to which it will decompose. In the event that it is not biodegradable, then it could move through surface water and sewage to the environment, be disposed of, and possibly damage the environment as a result. 

Self-tests and non-recyclable materials

In the case of self-tests, the threat to the environment starts from the huge quantities of non-recyclable material found in the market in a very short time, according to Ms. Stroboula.

As he explains, the multipack that accompanies it, in such large quantities, puts a lot of pressure on the already burdened recycling system, especially in Greece. Buying a self-test we buy together, the pharmacy bag (plastic most of the time), the cardboard box of the package, the plastic case of the cotton swab, the instructions for use, the plastic tube, and the test itself. So we see that there are recyclable materials in the package (paper and plastic).

“Therefore, the problem is twofold, firstly the rejection of self-tests in green bins (as stated in the directive) being medical waste, that even covering them with a plastic bag is not enough to manage them properly and secondly the non-recycling of the rest packaging containing valuable recyclable material. We need to manage them briefly, such as medicines or other such waste. That is why the directive states “not in blue bins or sewers” because that way they reach the environment much faster and uncontrollably “.

How should samples be discarded?

In Greece, information regarding the recycling of products is unfortunately incomplete, as stated by Ms. Stroboula.

” There are not only the questions of how we are going to throw the waste of self-tests in the green bin and how they are going to get to the landfill but also the questions of what happens next. Many European countries are already burying or burning this waste.”

“Today, in order to have access to the relevant information, the citizen will have to search the internet or the site of the ministry, something that presupposes that he is already aware. For this reason, we need a more immediate update such as at the end of the official informative video and a small addition on how we reject the test so that this information reaches more homes. The information also burdens the test production companies which should include the corresponding information obviously in the packaging of the product they supply in the market “.

“The issue of recycling lies mainly in the proper management and information of the citizens so that they know in-depth that it concerns them. “After all, we can not talk about a future zero-waste society free of plastic if we do not promote the situation in this direction,” concludes Ms. Stroboula. 

The question still remains, how much do the Coronavirus mask and testing kits cost the environment? 

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