Category: masks

1.6 Billion Disposable Masks Entered Our Oceans in 2020

This post is by Marcus Lu from Visual Capitalist

Disposable masks pollution ocean

The Briefing

  • 52 billion disposable face masks were produced in 2020 (this includes N95 respirators and surgical masks)
  • It’s estimated that 1.6 billion of these masks ended up in our oceans
  • This equates to roughly 5,500 tons of plastic pollution

Demand for Disposable Masks Skyrockets in 2020

Following the World Health Organization’s formal declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world quickly mandated the use of face masks in public spaces.

This led to a massive demand shock, prompting factories to begin producing disposable masks at full capacity. The majority of these masks were produced in China, and in April 2020, the country reported a staggering daily production figure of 450 million masks.

Plastic Pollution: A Lesser Known Side Effect

In Ocean Asia’s 2020 report, Masks on the Beach, researchers developed a formula to provide reasonable estimates for the number of disposable masks entering the environment.

Given an annual production figure of 52 billion disposable masks and a loss rate of 3% (the percentage of masks that escape water management systems), the team concluded that nearly 1.6 billion face masks wound up in our oceans in 2020. This amounts to approximately 5,500 tons of plastic pollution.

These masks are commonly made of polypropylene, which easily breaks up into microplastics. While the effects of microplastics on human health are not yet determined, these fragments are incredibly common in our water supply—for example, 94% of U.S. tap water is deemed to be contaminated.

Disposable Doesn’t Mean They’re Gone

Despite (Read more...)

Mask Mandates Were Effective

Yesterday I took a day off after my second vaccine shot and promptly made the mistake of getting myself into a Twitter fight about the effectiveness of mask mandates (sadly the other party deleted their tweets leaving only my side – despite making good points that had me thinking). I compounded this mistake by citing a paper that I felt (and still feel) provides data in support of such mandates but had attracted the ire of a bunch of epidemiologists who had called for its retraction.

The good news is that all of this got me to look more seriously at the data, as well as at other research. On the basis of this I am confirming my assessment that mask mandates were justified and that more states should have implemented them early on.

But first a step back. What go this whole thing going? Well I noticed a bunch of people on Twitter claiming that mask mandates never worked (and I suppose by implication should have never been issued). What do they base this claim on? Well in recent months it appears that states which have lifted their mask mandates have fared similar to ones that still have them as can be seen in the following chart:


Now I don’t find this convincing because we are deep into this pandemic and at this point people’s mask wearing behavior is much more likely to be influenced by what they know about them than by a mandate. This is not dissimilar (Read more...)