Face masks are a ticking plastic bomb 口罩是滴答作響的塑料炸彈

News Release 10-Mar-2021

University of Southern Denmark

Research News

IMAGE: disposed facemasks collected in Odense City, Denmark. view more  Credit: Elvis Genbo Xu/SDU

Recent studies estimate that we use an astounding 129 billion face masks globally every month – that is 3 million a minute. Most of them are disposable face masks made from plastic microfibers.

– With increasing reports on inappropriate disposal of masks, it is urgent to recognize this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem, researchers warn in a comment in the scientific journal Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering.

The researchers are Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu from University of Southern Denmark and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Zhiyong Jason Ren from Princeton University.

No guidelines for mask recycling:

Disposable masks are plastic products, that cannot be readily biodegraded but may fragment into smaller plastic particles, namely micro- and nanoplastics that widespread in ecosystems.

The enormous production of disposable masks is on a similar scale as plastic bottles, which is estimated to be 43 billion per month.

However, different from plastic bottles, (of which app. 25 pct. is recycled), there is no official guidance on mask recycle, making it more likely to be disposed of as solid waste, the researchers write.

Greater concern than plastic bags:

If not disposed of for recycling, like other plastic wastes, disposable masks can end up in the environment, freshwater systems, and oceans, where weathering can generate a large number of micro-sized particles (smaller than 5 mm) during a relatively short period (weeks) and further fragment into nanoplastics (smaller than 1 micrometer).

– A newer and bigger concern is that the masks are directly made from microsized plastic fibers (thickness of ~1 to 10 micrometers). When breaking down in the environment, the mask may release more micro-sized plastics, easier and faster than bulk plastics like plastic bags, the researchers write, continuing:

– Such impacts can be worsened by a new-generation mask, nanomasks, which directly use nano-sized plastic fibers (with a diameter smaller than 1 micrometer) and add a new source of nanoplastic pollution.

– The researchers stress that they do not know how masks contribute to the large number of plastic particles detected in the environment – simply because no data on mask degradation in nature exists.

– But we know that, like other plastic debris, disposable masks may also accumulate and release harmful chemical and biological substances, such as bisphenol A, heavy metals, as well as pathogenic micro-organisms. These may pose indirect adverse impacts on plants, animals and humans, says Elvis Genbo Xu.

What can we do?

Elvis Genbo Xu and Zhiyong Jason Ren have the following suggestions for dealing with the problem:

  1. Set up mask-only trash cans for collection and disposal
  2. consider standardization, guidelines, and strict implementation of waste management for mask wastes
  3. replace disposable masks with reusable face masks like cotton masks
  4. consider development of biodegradable disposal masks.




研究人員是南丹麥大學的環境毒理學家Elvis Genbo Xu和普林斯頓大學的土木與環境工程教授Zhiyong Jason Ren。 沒有口罩回收準則: 一次性口罩是塑料產品,不易生物降解,但會破碎成較小的塑料顆粒,即在生態系統中廣泛分佈的微米和納米塑料。 一次性口罩的大量生產與塑料瓶的規模相似,估計為每月430億個。

然而,研究人員寫道,不同於塑料瓶(其中約25%被回收),沒有官方的口罩回收指導,使其更可能作為固體廢物處置。 比塑料袋更令人擔憂: 如果不像其他塑料廢料一樣將其丟棄後再利用,一次性口罩可能會最終進入環境,淡水系統和海洋,在這些環境中,風化作用會在相對較短的時間內產生大量微粒(小於5毫米) (數週),然後進一步破碎成納米塑料(小於1微米)。 –越來越多的關注是,口罩直接由超細塑料纖維製成(厚度約1至10微米)。




但是我們知道,與其他塑料碎片一樣,一次性口罩也可能積聚並釋放有害的化學和生物物質,例如雙酚A,重金屬以及病原微生物。 Elvis Genbo Xu說,這些可能會對植物,動物和人類造成間接的不利影響。

我們可以做什麼? Elvis Genbo Xu和Zhiyong Jason Ren對於解決此問題有以下建議:

設置僅用於收集口罩的口罩垃圾桶 考慮口罩廢物的標準化,準則和廢物管理的嚴格實施 用可重複使用的口罩(如棉口罩)代替一次性口罩 考慮開發可生物降解的口罩。

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