A group of biology students from the University of Costa Rica identified 1,101 pieces of plastic in the digestive tract of 30 sardines. (A.M. Costa Rica photo)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The environmental impact of mandatory daily mask use, especially disposable masks, could end up coming at a high cost causing a major blow to the environment, specialists from the University of Costa Rica told A.M.CostaRica.

Several analyses by the World Health Organization, WHO, prove that wearing face masks is necessary for reducing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. But the environmental cost of the waste of a disposable mask, according to Christian Alpízar-Herrera, professor of environmental management at the National Institute of Learning, is the slow degradation process of the microplastics contained in expendable masks.

“Disposable masks are partially made of polyethylene, which are two types of plastic resins. Having plastic can happen in two things. The first is the mask can be ingested by marine fauna. The second is while it is degrading, it produces microplastics, small plastic particles, which can enter the food chain of living beings and affect human health,” said Alpízar.

In a 2017 report, the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, reported that microplastics contain harmful additives; that is, a mixture of chemicals added during manufacturing that can affect the environment.

The specialist pointed out the quotidian presence of microplastics, such as in the aquatic environment and the existence of cases in which the marine fauna presented the consumption of this waste.

According to specialists, in 2019, a group of biology students from the university identified 1,101 pieces of plastic in the digestive tract of 30 analysed fish of the Opisthonema species, or sardines. This small fish is used both for human consumption and as bait for larger fish.

To avoid damaging the environment, good waste management must be practiced, in addition to ensuring the use of reusable fabric masks that can be washed and disinfected, this way avoiding the use of disposable masks, the specialists said.

According to health authorities, it is recommended that people wear masks in public areas, while using public transportation, and places where many people are gathering. Face masks help prevent those with covid-19 from spreading the virus to others.