26 September 2023

Call to face up to discarded masks

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The Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is appealing to all Victorians to become the eyes and ears of a new scientific program to rid the streets of discarded face masks.

Chief Environmental Scientist at EPA, Mark Patrick Taylor said the Mask-Away pilot program would help quantify the scale of the problem associated with inappropriate disposal of COVID masks.

Dr Taylor said the EPA had launched an easy-to-use online tool to gather the data.

“Discarded face masks have gone from a largely unknown litter item to being left behind everywhere,” Dr Taylor said.

“It’s difficult to quantify just how many used masks are messing up the streets, storm drains, water ways and beaches of Victoria, but they are everywhere,” he said.

“As EPA’s Chief Environmental Scientist, I’m looking to Victorians in every town and suburb to help us identify the mask litter hotspots so EPA and other Agencies can design and better target clean up and mitigation efforts to stop the mask pollution.”

Dr Taylor said Victorians who were sick of binning abandoned masks they’d found in the street would get the chance to contribute to prevention programs and help stop mask litter from being there in the first place.

He said surgical masks were long lasting, don’t decay easily in the environment “and Victorians hate finding them in our stormwater drains, in our streets and washing up on our beaches.”

“Not only are they unsightly, they are harmful to wildlife and our environment and everyone can contribute to the solution,” he said.

“In the meantime, doing the right thing with your own used mask is easy – protect wildlife by pulling the loops off and putting it in a general waste bin.”

Dr Taylor said the pilot program was an extension of EPA’s pollution hotline where members of the public could report all types of pollution, by calling 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842) or providing details online.

Readers can contribute to the EPA’s Mask-Away pilot via this PS News link.

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