The past few months have been a major challenge for the international community. The invisible enemy of the virus has caused havoc right across the globe affecting every aspect of human life.
While the health authorities are fighting relentlessly to contain the damage from the virus, the scientific community is racing against time to find a vaccine and protect humans from this catastrophe.
In the efforts to contain the spread of this virus, new modes of lifestyle have emerged over the past few months which would become an unenviable part of our day today life till the virus is conquered.
This is an attempt to address the environmental impacts this sudden change in our routine would have on our planet and ways by which we as responsible citizens could address the same.
The PPEs which every individual has to now necessarily wear as an essential part of his daily attire and routine has thrown up another major challenge to the environmental sector which is already reeling under various major types of crisis like plastic pollution .These PPEs have of late started adding to the woes of the environmentalists.
The masks and gloves which are now bought as a daily consumable in every household have started generating a new type of waste –a non-degradable biohazard waste. If you look around now, you find a society going around their routine with face mask and gloves of myriad sizes and makes. With billions of such masks and gloves being mass produced globally and used daily and thrown around, the impact of this on the environment is going to be an added burden to the already fragile system.
Let us explore the impact of these on the system:
N 95 masks which is made from poly propylene, which also contains a rubber band and an aluminum strip. Making of each N 95 mask contributes to around 0.05 Kg of co2 footprint.
A 3-ply surgical face mask which again consist of a petroleum based non-woven middle layer with a waterproof front and back layer again adding to the CO2 foot prints in their manufacture.
The third type of masks that are prevalent are the cloth masks made from cotton where certified cloth masks with HEPA filters; a filter that is approved and certified against COVID19 and can filter around 95% of the fines bringing it closer to the N 95 mask as per research studies.
With all these masks in the market and the imminent damages which it would cause further to the ecosystem when used and discarded callously, we as responsible citizens could consider some of the following options to reduce its impact and keep our city clean and contribute in our own way to reducing the carbon impact of the manufacture of these masks and the subsequent environmental challenges for its disposal:
- Let N95 and the related type of masks be used only by the Front-line medical professionals who really need these and not by everyone walking on the street.
- For our regular use, as far as possible try to go for washable and reusable masks with HEPA filters which should be safe enough with performances close to 95% of N 95 masks.
- If these are not available, only then go for the 3 ply surgical masks which are the most widely used at present.
From an environmental perspective the washable cotton masks with the HEPA would be the most sustainable option. The conscious selection of these masks and use by all of us would definitely have an impact on the sustainable goals and its achievement.
Here again various types of gloves are available in the market primarily Latex, Nitrile, and vinyl gloves.
Most latex gloves are made from natural rubber product whereas nitrile and vinyl gloves are made of petrochemical products.
Accordingly, latex gloves are more biodegradable compared to the non-biodegradable nature of both nitrile and vinyl gloves.
Between Nitrile gloves and vinyl gloves, nitrile is a better choice since vinyl gloves are non-bio degradable and made from Poly Vinyl Chloride ( PVC) and plasticizers and once these are sent to incinerators when discarded as waste produce more dioxins and other carcinogens and therefore to be avoided.
Based on the available options Latex is more likely to be a preferred choice, as they provide better protection against viruses and bacteria and the other types are more for chemical handling.
Some startling revelations as shown below as per some studies published in Germany which compare the environmental CO2 footprint of a 30 days usage of an N 95 mask to a Daily use certified washable mask highlight the huge difference in its impact.
ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT OF 30 DAYS USAGE OF N95 MASK VERSUS DIY MASK
Manufacturing gloves again has got a huge carbon impact with estimated generation of 0.21 kg e of CO2 for latex glove as an example.
After having consciously chosen the right type of gloves and masks, the next challenge comes up for the disposal of these after their use. These are classified as biohazard waste and should not be mixed with general waste to be sent to the landfills but instead kept separately and disposed of as biohazard wastes. While the PPEs cause these above-mentioned impacts on the environment, the change in eating habits of the society with fewer visits to restaurants and increase in home deliveries has added another dimension to the waste management woes during this covid period.
All home deliveries of food tend to be made along with one-time use and throw plastic cutlery which then ends up in the waste stream. Unless properly cleaned and source segregated and disposed on into the recyclable bins it would never get into the recycling chain and would again eventually end up in the landfills. A better option would be for the hotels and home delivery establishments to provide these only if needed and not as a routine supply as is prevalent. All homes do not need this plastic cutlery as they would have their own regular cutlery at home and as a society we should take a conscious decision to advice the restaurants when we order food from home not to provide plastic cutlery. Restaurants could also specifically ask this question while taking orders. This would again save a lot of waste plastic going into the landfills and also save CO2 footprints in the process.
Therefore, a responsible society who addresses these concerns and consciously makes their choice to reduce the environment damage is the need of the hour. A time like this when we are restrained in our activities due to this pandemic, is opportune for all of us to reflect and do our bit to the environmental goals of the nation.
We from Dulsco as a leading environment company in the region address these concerns and work closely with the Dubai Municipality and authorities to partner in the most sustainable operations in managing all wastes. For the covid Biohazard waste a strict protocol is now being followed for the handling of these disposable biohazard waste where these are collected separately and sent to the Municipality incinerator.
Dulsco is also commissioning shortly a biodegradable medical disposable products manufacturing unit, which would replace the use of plastic and other such disposables to support further the efforts of the health authorities to fight the current pandemic besides paving the way for more sustainable solutions as we all collectively fight this pandemic.
Together we can confidently overcome this challenging phase in our journey.