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It’s estimated that 129 billion face masks are used worldwide each month, which works out to about 3 million masks a minute
Not only are masks not being recycled, but their materials make them likely to persist and accumulate in the environment
Because masks may be directly made from microsized plastic fibers with a thickness of 1 mm to 10 mm, they may release microsized particles into the environment more readily — and faster — than larger plastic items, like plastic bags
Microbes from your mouth, known as oral commensals, frequently enter your lungs, where they’ve been linked to advanced-stage lung cancer; wearing a mask could potentially accelerate this process
The “new normal” of widespread masking is affecting not only the environment but also the mental and physical health of humans
The planet may be facing a new plastic crisis, similar to the one brought on by bottled water, but this time involving discarded face masks. “Mass masking” continues to be recommended by most public health groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite research showing masks do not significantly reduce the incidence of infection.1
As a result, it’s estimated that 129 billion face masks are used worldwide each month, which works out to about 3 million masks a minute. Most of these are disposable varieties, made from plastic microfibers.2
Ranging in size from five millimeters (mm) to microscopic lengths, microplastics, which include microfibers, are being ingested by fish, plankton, and other marine life, as well as the creatures on land that consume them (including humans3).
More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally annually — and that was before mask-wearing became a daily habit. Most of it ends up as waste in the environment, leading researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and Princeton University to warn that masks could quickly become “the next plastic problem.”4