Whilst we have been focusing on Covid-19's social and economic impact, we may have inadvertently overlooked its impact on the environment.
This pandemic is generating tonnes of waste, particularly plastic wastes and with the lifting of lockdown, the use of protective equipment like face masks , gloves and hand sanitisers have risen exponentially.
However, whilst we are made aware of how to use these equipment, we remain sadly in the dark about how to properly dispose of it and what doing otherwise will cause.
As a matter of fact, around 3.4 billion face masks were thrown away daily in the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. As a result the natural environment is being grossly damaged.
For instance, in a recent initiative taken by a French non-profit organisation Opération Mer Propre, divers found discarded face masks and bottles of hand sanitisers on the bed of the Mediterranean.
Although this discovery may be laughed at for being trivial, it speaks volumes about how dangerously ineffective the waste management system may be.
Bangladesh, by itself, generated around 13 billion discarded face masks during March and November. This is a dismal figure - and considering that we have not taken into account other plastic medical wastes, this figure is downright horrifying.
In spite of the fact that one single face mask can release about 1,73,000 plastic microfibers into the sea, we are doing almost nothing about it.
Generally, these microfibers that are released in the sea are ingested by small aquatic organisms. With time, it causes their digestive tracts to be blocked, causing them to stop eating and die.
Moreover, these face masks and PPE can also release harmful toxins in the seas, which may be accumulated inside the fishes as they feed. As a result, the fishes and other marine life may suffer from liver toxicity and other conditions.
Undoubtedly, all of this will decrease the biodiversity of the oceans - leading to yet another crisis.
In addition to that, researchers also claim that the harmful dyes and heavy metals that are being released by the discarded mask, will eventually find their way to fresh water bodies. As a result our water systems may be heavily polluted in the future.
The littered face masks not only entangle animals and birds, but they will also harm much needed plant life. Once again such intrusion may jeopardise the integrity of our ecosystem.
Furthermore, almost all of the protective gears like face masks and PPE are made of polypropylene. Therefore, its production has undoubtedly led to an increase in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Indeed, about 32.7g of carbon dioxide is released per face mask during its production cycle - a product that we so carelessly use and discard.
Yes, in our race to handle the pandemic and save human lives, the importance of limiting our carbon footprints have taken a backseat. However, this does not mean that we will not face the harsh consequences that await us.
Aside from that, improper disposal of face masks and PPE can lead to a resurgence of the pandemic. Indeed, this is a concern, especially for Bangladesh where waste management has always been a problem.
In fact, it is worth noting that as per a recent research, about 93.4% of Covid-19 medical wastes are not being disposed properly. Most of the Covid-19 medical waste is reportedly being transported using open drums and trucks.
Furthermore, these wastes are usually being dealt with by inexperienced and ill-trained individuals - a situation that can prove harmful for the people dealing with the waste and the rest of the country.
Therefore, it is imperative that the country takes steps in order to ensure that Covid wastes are being dealt with in a manner that reduces risks to, not only us, but the environment as well.
Obviously, the national waste management system must be improved from within the core in order to achieve a good result. In fact, considering that recent initiatives have been taken to make the waste management system more efficient, we can hope for the best.
For instance the setting up of three medical waste management services in the region of Cox's Bazar by the International Committee of the Red Cross, may prove to be very beneficial for us.
Nevertheless, unless general people like us change our daily habit of dispensing with face masks and plastic sanitiser bottles wherever we want to, this situation will not improve.
As a matter of fact, we can do a lot in order to ensure that our surroundings are not impacted by our use of masks and they include: throwing the masks directly into a garbage cans, cutting off the straps of the disposed masks so that animals do not end up entangled in them and using eco-friendly masks or reusable cloth face masks.
All in all, Covid-19 has been and will continue to be an issue for a while, however, we must be careful that in our efforts to keep ourselves safe we do not expose other life to risk. We must also realise that safety in the short term will amount to nothing if we do not minimise the risks of the future.
Hence, it is essential for us to properly dispose of Covid-19 wastes, be that used face masks, PPE or medical waste, in order to ensure that we do not create an existential crisis for ourselves and the natural world.
Tasnim Gulzar is an LLB student at London College of Legal Studies (South).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.