With a global production projection of 52 billion masks for 2020, OceansAsia estimated 1.56 million masks, conservatively three percent of the total produced, were entering our oceans.
Single-use face masks are made from melt-blown plastics and are difficult to recycle due to both the composition and risk of contamination and infection. These masks enter the ocean as litter or when waste management systems are overwhelmed by increasing volumes of waste.
Once a mask enters the ocean, they become a source of microplastic throughout the 450-year-long decomposition process, while mask ear loops pose an entanglement risk for marine life. Masks are also prone to algal growth, which increases the chance of it being mistaken as food.
In Brazil, conservationists found a mask inside the stomach of a penguin after its body washed up on a beach, while a mask was discovered inside a dead pufferfish off the coast of Miami in the US.