NREB: Haphazard disposal of used face masks, PPE may lead to environmental disaster

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Photo shows used face masks littering a parking space.

KUCHING (July 8): The Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) Sarawak fears that the indiscriminate disposal of used face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) could lead to an environmental disaster that may last longer than the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Wearing the face mask to protect ourselves is good, but it’s not just about ourselves; proper disposal of the face masks and PPE waste are essential too for the benefit of every person, and for our health, the environment and our future generations’ sake,” it said in a statement today.

It said following the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic March last year, had led to governments introducing the compulsory use of PPE or face masks.

“The new PPE products are considered disposable after brief use. As a consequence, a new waste category has appeared. The mandatory use of PPE has been extended to many locations such as public transport, shops, offices, or other premises.

“This had resulted in a significantly growing volume of disposed PPE items,” it said.

NREB quoted Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah as saying that the amount of PPE used by healthcare workers under the Health Ministry alone amounted to 59 million units a month before the pandemic.

“Estimation by Sangkham, S. (2020) at 80 per cent face masks acceptance rate and 27 per cent urban populations suggested that Malaysia may produce 7.05 million total daily used face masks for its 32.4 million population, whilst Sarawak may produce 628,000 daily used face mask for it 2.91 million population.

“Millions of face mask have been used since the pandemic began in March last year and the question is where do they end up?

“Using the reverse supply chain methodology, undeniably the following three target groups: the local governments, waste collection companies and the citizens are the key players in the management of PPE waste,” said NREB.

NREB said it was intensifying its enforcement and monitoring works while the government was doing its best in tackling the issue of PPE waste.

Monitoring and patrolling assisted by drones had increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the enforcement team to detect unscrupulous activities such as indiscriminate disposal of wastes that adversely affect the environment, it added.

Those found guilty may be subject to a maximum penalty of RM50,000 or imprisonment up to three years, or both.

“Similarly, all local councils in Sarawak and their waste collection companies are doing their part to provide the best disposal and safe treatment for this waste. However, this issue is beyond NREB and local councils but requires all strata of societal involvement,” said NREB.

It said the best long-term approach towards better management of PPE waste in Sarawak is that all parties play their roles to ensure the face masks and any PPE waste are disposed of properly and safely.

As such, NREB appealed to the general public to report any incident of indiscriminate disposal of wastes including used face masks and other PPE waste to its office.

The NREB public complaint hotline can be reached via WhatsApp or call +6013-759 5866.