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Menace unmasked

July 1 - 7 , 2020
Gulf Weekly Menace unmasked

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

AN environmental campaign is growing across the kingdom against the irresponsible disposal of products used to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

As reported recently in our sister newspaper the GDN, officials are calling for tough punishments to be handed out to people found littering used face masks and gloves outside supermarkets, banks and petrol stations.

Environmental specialist Haya Aldoseri, known on Instagram as @green.sprouts, is the latest well-known campaigner to voice concern: “It’s definitely terrible that with the current Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people are using disposable face masks and gloves and they are being discarded everywhere,” she said.

“They are mostly non-recyclable and now oceans around the world are suffocating from this new form of pollution.”

Opération Mer Propre, a French non-profit organisation that regularly picks up litter along the Côte d’Azur. Its founder Laurent Lombard, for example, believes that soon there will be more dumped masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean.

Haya, who has been working in the environmental field in Bahrain and the UAE for more than 15 years spreading awareness on various topics such as waste reduction, organic gardening, plant-based foods, forestation and urban planning, said: “In the ocean, plastic masks and gloves break down into tiny plastic particles due to the heat and waves.

“Fish ingest the micro-plastic so it gets into the food chain. It’s estimated that humans consume the weight of a credit card in plastic every single week. This is because plastic has become so ubiquitous in nature that we all actually breathe it, eat it and drink it.”

The long-term effects on humans is under study but many experts fear it will lead to an increase in cancer and hormonal imbalances.

“It’s ironic that we strongly believe plastic will protect us from viruses while we forget that plastic is a hormone disruptor and a carcinogen,” added Haya. “It’s completely wrong that we’ve been programmed to trust plastic blindly.

“Unfortunately, discarded masks will last in nature for more than 450 years. Plastic has sadly entered the hydrologic cycle, meaning even raindrops contain plastic which in turn leads to crops containing a certain amount of micro-plastic in them as well.”

Haya, who has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Biology and Ecosystems and a minor in Psychology from the American University of Sharjah, believes the most practical solution during the present crisis is to use reusable masks and gloves.

She said: “Limiting single use masks and gloves to hospital use only would reduce the new plastic dilemma greatly. If the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t been a wake-up call to us then I don’t know what can be.”

Bahrain has been working hard on protecting its people from exposure as well as keeping the streets clean. Article 34 of the Public Health Law for 2018 states that legal action will be taken against anyone who exposes others to infections, with violators being jailed up to three months and/or fined between BD1,000 and BD10,000.

According to the National Cleanliness Law for 2019, all types of littering are punishable with fines ranging between BD50 and BD300, while fines between BD500 and BD1,000 will be issued for transporting rubbish or dangerous substances without a proper licence or proper equipment.

Haya hopes people will learn lessons from the pandemic. She said: “I pray that this pandemic makes us more humble with the way we interact with our fellow creatures and the planet as a whole.

“We need to reduce plastic consumption, buy less packaged food and recycle waste. Also, small actions can make a big difference such as using a cloth bag for your groceries, buying second-hand clothes and home items, supporting local organic farmers, ditching single use plastic bottles and using bar soap instead of shower gel in a plastic bottle.”

To find out more, check out @green.sprouts on Instagram.

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