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A GLOBAL RESPONSE TO PANDEMIC POLLUTION Every minute of the day we throw away 3 million face masks. Recent studies estimate that we use an astounding 129 billion face masks globally every month. In the wake of COVID, are waves of masks, shields and gloves. While the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been required for us to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, what has also been needed is the safe disposal of PPE. This need, however, has not been met. This is where our Awareness Ties Official Ambassador for the Environment Awareness, Zeeshan Khan comes in with a response and a solution.

Allié: One step ahead, Zeeshan. This is how you’ve built your career and work as an activist and advocate for the protection of the environment. When it comes to COVID, it seems that the solution found in terms of PPE has created an issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes a new problem of pandemic proportions. Please tell us about when you first noticed a need for an initiative to address pandemic pollution and why it's important to act now.

Zeeshan: Disposable masks, the highly-regarded weapon against COVID around the world, are becoming an enormous environmental problem. We use heaps of them. You only have to look around you to see how many escape the incinerator and end up on the street, in parks and in the oceans. If we want to make more calculations, multiply everything by the 450 years that a mask needs to decompose (they are mostly made of polypropylene), and we arrive at a complete picture of what has now become not only a health emergency, but an ecological one as well.

I first realised the importance of mask disposal when COVID hit India back in March 2020 and since then the mask has become an important part of everyday life. Me and my team were distributing food packets to the needy people in my city. It was a crowded place so we requested people to maintain distance and announced that we will only distribute food packets to the ones whose face is covered with masks. So a guy ran, picked up and put on the used mask from the street and joined the line. I saw him doing that and realised how dangerous it could have been if it would have contained viruses.

That was the time I realised that discarded masks may risk spreading coronavirus to waste collectors, litter pickers or members of the public who first come across the litter. We know that in certain conditions, the virus can survive on a plastic surgical mask for seven days. Dispose of them appropriately and perform hand hygiene immediately afterwards. If medical masks are worn, appropriate use and safe disposal is essential to ensure they are effective and to avoid any increase in risk of transmission associated with the incorrect use and disposal of masks.

Allié: #DisposeSafely is the campaign you created to raise awareness about the safe disposal of PPE. It began in Bhopal, India and has spread to 10 other countries. Tell us about the campaign and its conversion from a grassroots campaign to a global initiative’.

Zeeshan: #DisposeSafely campaign was started on 22 April 2020 (Earth Day) to spread awareness about the safe disposal of Masks, Gloves & other PPE in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection. Since then we are dedicatedly working towards this mission. Environmentalists from over 10 countries supported the campaign by using the hashtag to raise awareness through Instagram and other social media platforms. The campaign was first started by me and my team and then it went viral on social media. Youth has actively contributed in spreading the awareness along with Bollywood celebrities who have joined the campaign. As mask disposal is a global problem, we are continuously working and trying to come up with innovative solutions and possible alternatives to curb this threat. 7


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AwareNow: Issue 18: The Outside Edition  

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