Between 4,680 and 6,240 metric tonnes of face masks will pollute the world’s oceans this year, according to a new report from Oceans Asia. (Gary Stokes/OceansAsia)

Between 4,680 and 6,240 metric tonnes of face masks will pollute the world’s oceans this year, according to a new report from Oceans Asia. (Gary Stokes/OceansAsia)

1.56 billion face masks will pollute oceans this year, says Victoria researcher

Each mask takes up to 450 years to break down, according to the OceansAsia report

The world’s oceans will be inundated with an estimated 1.56 billion face masks by the end of 2020, a new report from a marine conservation organization reported on Dec. 7.

OceansAsia said the masks with result in an additional 4,680 to 6,240 tonnes of marine plastic pollution, and each mask will take as long as 450 years to break down. To put it in perspective, one tonne is equivalent to the weight of the average small car.

However, lead author and Saanich resident Teale Phelps Bondaroff, said this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“The 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of face masks are just a small fraction of the estimated 8- to 12-million metric tonnes of plastic that enter our oceans each year,” he said.

READ ALSO: WATCH: Single-use surgical masks pile up on Hong Kong beaches after COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 has caused a spike in plastic consumption, according to the report, and it’s not just masks people should be worried about.

“Hygiene concerns and greater reliance on takeaway food has led to increased use of plastics, particularly plastic packaging,” said Gary Stokes, director of operations of OceansAsia. “Meanwhile, a number of measures designed to reduce plastic consumption, like single-use plastic bag bans, have been delayed, paused or rolled back.”

Victoria council decided to pause putting its checkout bag regulation bylaw into effect when COVID-19 hit. It’s now expected to begin on April 15, 2021.

Single-use face masks are typically made from a fossil-fuel derived plastic called polypropylene. Not only does the material take hundreds of years to break down, but it also sheds tiny micro-plastics that people often end up consuming through seafood.

READ ALSO: Humans unknowingly eat 100,000 particles of plastic per year, says new UVic study

Masks enter oceans when they are littered, when waste management systems are inadequate, or when these systems are overwhelmed by an influx of waste. The effects are devastating.

“Plastic pollution kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates and other animals each year,” Stokes said.

Of course, the report isn’t asking people to stop wearing masks during COVID-19, but it is asking that people use reusable masks whenever possible and dispose of single-use masks responsibly.

“There are reusable and sustainable options for almost every single single-use plastic item,” Phelps Bondaroff said. “We all have a role to play.”

READ ALSO: Province greenlights plastic bag bans for five B.C. municipalities


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

ConservationOcean ProtectionPlastic wastePollution and Air Quality

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Muddy Valley Farm in rural Saanich is calling for witnesses after its large metal gate was stolen overnight on Monday, Jan. 18. (Muddy Valley Farm/Facebook)
Rural Saanich farm reports large metal gate stolen

Muddy Valley Farm gate stolen overnight by ‘at least two people’

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Dallas Road

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Members of the Victoria Police Department, some of whom are shown here observing a moment of silence for victims of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, experience stress and potential trauma more than most other workers, says Chief Const. Del Manak. While the number of shifts lost at VicPD are soaring, he sees it as a sign people are taking their own health and wellness seriously. (Black Press Media file photo)
Skyrocketing number of lost shifts at Victoria police has a positive side, chief says

Chief Const. Del Manak says officers, staff being more proactive looking after their mental health

A Seed and Stone rendering for White Rock, B.C. (Seed and Stone rendering)
Songhees Nation to open two Victoria cannabis stores spring 2021

Seed and Stone stores will open on Gordon Street and in the Bay Centre

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A mattress on fire gutted the second floor hallway at Town Park Apartments C-block Jan. 17. (Port Hardy Fire Rescue images)
‘Suspicious’ Port Hardy apartment fire could keep tenants out of their homes for months

A burning mattress created smoke and heat, causing several tenants to jump from windows

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

Most Read