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Editorial, February 21, 2022 | The Examiner



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In 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, more than three billion single-use plastic masks were thrown out around the world every day. That is a frightening statistic. Before the word coronavirus entered our collective mainstream vernacular, the world, including Tasmania, was in the process of gearing up its fight in the war against waste. Closer to home, the City of Launceston council flagged it would phase out single-use plastics for city events and in council-owned spaces by this year – 2022. Enter – COVID-19. The virus that single-handedly threw us back to square one in the fight against plastic waste, but it also put us further behind than we’ve ever been. During lockdowns and the first waves of the pandemic’s spread, even measures like reusable coffee cups were abandoned over fear of high-touch points and surface germs. One step forward and three steps back. Three-layer cloth masks, which were touted as an environmentally friendly option, were soon shot down by pandemic commentators and other experts – we were told only single-use surgical masks, or respirators were effective. Even better, pair a plastic mask with a cloth. Restrictions that require only single-use masks be worn, instead of three-layer cloth masks, has meant often surgical masks are being worn for short periods and then discarded, where they pollute the environment. This kind of measure, while it has been detrimental to the fight against waste, it has been effective and necessary in the fight against the pandemic. However, we are now two years into this fight and while we still transition to live with COVID, it’s important to not lose sight of the other practices we’d adopted before. Which is why Clean Up Australia Day, which this year is held on March 6, is calling for citizen scientists to help reduce mask waste and focus on removing them this year. There’s no doubt face masks are littering the environment – one only has to attend a medical appointment to see the bins at the exits overflowing with face masks. Volunteers will unmask the impact of the problem by tallying up the number of face masks collected and removed from the environment during the event. And it’s not just masks that people are discarding without thought – rapid antigen tests are also finding their way into recycling centres, which prompted a call from Tasmanian waste authorities to be mindful of RAT disposal. Climate change is everyone’s responsibility and we can all do our part – and often all it takes is being a bit more mindful and aware of where waste goes. There’s no such thing as “thrown away” – people should ensure they are mindful of where their rubbish goes. It’s not very hard to make sure masks, if you do buy single-use ones, do end up in landfill, instead of in an overflowing rubbish bin, that ends up in the gutter, and into the environment, where it can impact on flora and fauna. Climate change and the environment is emerging as an important topic for many, and it’s something our kids have shown us time and time again they care about. We have all pulled together to endure this pandemic, let’s ensure we all do our part to leave the world a better place – masks, RATs and all.

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