Amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak, Medical Mask Waste Becomes Our Next Threat
Due to the increasing panic of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of medical masks has increased rapidly in many countries. Unfortunately, in most of the countries, this rise in medical masks demand is not accompanied by better-prepared medical mask handling protocols and education.
It was reported by South China Morning Post (5/03/2020) that due to a lack of treatment facilities, China is struggling to deal with a mountain of medical waste created by the coronavirus epidemic. Also, according to mainland Chinese reports, the volume of medical waste in Wuhan, the city in which the epidemic began in December 2019, had quadrupled to more than 200 tonnes a day last week.
When used by a person who has contracted the coronavirus, all items used by that person is categorized as infectious/medical waste. This is including his/her clothes, bedsheets, undergarments, eating utensils, and also, his/her used medical masks. The items are required to be disinfected before washed, or disposed of. When discarded carelessly, disposable medical masks and other infectious waste could transmit the unwanted disease to another person, either through animal or abandoned medical waste on the street.
So this is the time for us to pay more attention to our medical waste, starting by paying more attention to our medical mask waste.
Who Should Use Medical Mask
Disposable medical masks / surgical mask that we often find in supermarkets are actually strongly advised to be used only by 2 types of people:
- People with infectious respiratory disease
- Doctors, medical workers, and carers to prevent them from transmitting any virus/bacteria to vulnerable patients with low immune system.
Due to its core function: to prevent its wearer from transmitting disease through liquid and/or body fluid, the disposable medical mask that we often see in the supermarkets are made with thin paper-like material. It’s not reusable and can not prevent its wearer from inhaling small particles from the air.
A type of disposable medical mask called N95 is often used by medical workers to prevent them from inhaling small particles from the air (such as dust and airborne virus). N95 is made with thicker material, the structure is more rigid, but it is not reusable. To use the N95 mask efficiently, the mask has to fit with the wearer’s nose and jaw, and need to be sealed tightly. Since the airborne virus and dangerous particle dust are things that need to be avoided in that situation, the wearer is also required to use the full medical haphazard suit and safety goggles.
Both types of medical masks are meant to be discarded after use and to be handled as infectious waste.
For people who isn’t fall into the category above, the use of reusable masks that could be disinfected, washed, and dried after use(such as: linen) is strongly advised.
How to Handle Your Disposable Medical Mask The Right Way
For safety measures, whether used by patients with infectious disease or not, disposable medical mask / surgical mask is better to be treated as infectious/medical waste.
Here are Some Step-by-Step Instructions to Manage your Disposable Medical Masks Waste:
- Wash your hands before removing your medical mask
- Avoid touching the nose and mouth part of the medical mask, instead, grab it by the earloop
- Disinfect medical masks with alcohol or other disinfectant products
- Fold it at least 3 times, with the part that is touching the nose and mouth facing inward. It is recommended to cut the mouth and nose part of the mask, but be careful in touching the mask and do not forget to disinfect the scissor that you use afterward.
- Wrap it using plastic, paper, or tissue
- Put the medical masks in a tightly closed container, preferably a red-colored one. If there is none, transparent plastic is recommended too.
- Label it with “Medical Waste”
- Wash your hands after making sure that the medical waste has been placed securely and out of reach
Help educate people around you by sharing this easy Step-by-Step How to Handle Your Disposable Medical Mask Waste, you can also download it here (best printed in A3):
Let’s raise awareness on #MedicalWaste and be wise in managing our medical waste!
Limit unnecessary use of medical masks to reduce the number of disposable masks that end up in landfills.