GAETA, LAZIO, ITALY – 2020/06/08: An obviously worn-out mouth and nose protection mask lies thrown … [+]
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For Italian seas, plastic pollution is getting worse in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The beginning of the summer season saw an increasing quantity of personal protective equipment (PPE, like masks and gloves) and other disposables dispersed in nature. At the same time, the third phase started last month finally allowing people to access beaches and move across the country for tourism.
A recent statement from WWF highlighted that “even if only 1% of the masks were disposed of incorrectly and perhaps dispersed in nature, this would result in 10 million masks per month” or, considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams, over 40 thousand kilograms of plastic.
“In order to defend the Mediterranean, which already has to deal with 570 thousand tons of plastic ending up in its waters every year, […] we ask the institutions to prepare appropriate bins for masks and gloves near the ports where workers use these protections to operate safely,” said the president of WWF’s Italian branch Donatella Bianchi.
Some Ligurian beaches have been an example of what could go wrong with a misuse of plastic. Last month, plastic bags with the inscription ‘civil protection’ were used as seat markers to ensure social distancing. According to citizens, soon a coastal storm took them away.
The city administration claims that plastic bags, weighing 7 kilos each, did not end up at sea and were instead recovered and removed.
The plastic pieces generated from the bags, however, can persist in the environment for decades. They can be fragmented thanks to atmospheric agents (sunlight, wind, etc.), making the uncontrollable spread of microplastics an incalculable damage to fish and birds. Furthermore, studies on microplastics in aquatic environments revealed that toxic chemicals can settle on these tiny particles and go as far as to our food.
Legambiente first denounced the abandonment of PPE everywhere from Milan to Florence, to the beaches of Campania, Calabria and Sicily.
“In the face of a global pandemic such as the one we are experiencing, it is understandable to put health and prevention of possible contagion first,” Serena Carpentieri, deputy director of the Italian environmental NGO Legambiente, says. “But in addition to responding to the health emergency, it is also necessary to foresee and prevent further problems, taking into consideration the most sustainable choices for the protection of the environment.”
Another problem is due to the reckless return of single-use plastic such as glasses, plates and cutlery in an effort to prevent contagion. “Sometimes the message has passed that, to protect the health aspects, one could go beyond and derogate from all the rest,” Carpentieri adds.
“It takes an effort by everyone, primarily by local administrators and citizens, in terms of civic sense and environmental sense,” she says. That is particularly important for public beaches, therefore Legambiente has applied to support local authorities in the preparation of a free beach management plan.
“Municipalities have to tell us how to use public beaches, by guaranteeing free access as well as safety and sustainability. It is not an easy task, so it is appropriate to think carefully, defining from now on, beach by beach, the measures that will have to be taken and, above all, the load capacity of each individual beach to prevent dangerous crowds.”