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Concerns over plastic pollution rise over increasing face mask wastes
Updated: 2020-06-30 13:49:00 KST
Hundreds of thousands of face masks are thrown away each day in South Korea,..and some are just tossed on the street.
At this park in central Seoul, cleaners are busy picking them up especially after a weekend of crowds enjoying the summer sunshine.

"Compared to the pre-COVID-19 period, I see more face masks thrown away."

The problem is these masks are made of synthetic resin, the basic raw material used to produce plastic.
The filters, the key parts of the masks, are made by turning synthetic resins into thin threads.
If these threads end up in rivers or the ocean, they can break down into even smaller particles of just five millimeters in diameter.

"On a rainy day, these masks are swept into streams, then into the sea. There, the plastic is absorbed into the eco-system, including into fish."

Currently, South Korea's environment ministry advises people to throw away masks as general waste in standard garbage bags, which are then either be buried or burned.
Masks from hospitals are categorized as medical waste, and are immediately sent for incineration.
Experts say recycling is not recommended for masks given the mixed chemical substances and the possibility for virus transmission.
At least 8-hundred million face masks have been disposed of in South Korea since February after the introduction of the government's public rationing system.
While the country comes up with a long-term solution to deal with the mask waste, experts are urging people to dispose of them properly to minimize environmental damage.
Lee Kyung-eun, Arirang News.
Reporter : kelee@arirang.com