Covid-19 face masks as a long-term source of microplastics in recycled urban green waste

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Abstract

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, many governments recommended or mandated the wearing of fitted face masks to limit the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus via aerosols. Concomitant with the extensive use of non-sterile, surgical-type single-use face masks (SUM) was an increase of such masks, either lost or discarded, in various environmental settings. With their low tensile strength, the spunbond and melt-blown fabrics of the SUM are prone to shredding into small pieces when impacted by lawn cutting equipment. Observations highlight the absence of smaller pieces, which are either wind-dispersed or collected by the mow-er’s leaf catcher and disposed together with the green waste and then enter the municipal waste stream. As proof-of-concept, experiments using a domestic lawn-mower with different height settings and different grass heights, show that 75% of all pieces of SUM fabric caught in the catcher belonged to sizes below 10 mm2, which under the influence of UV light will decay into microfi-bers. The implications of SUM generated microplastics are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number207
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2022

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