Experts call for system to combat PPE pollution

Face masks are non-degradable and will stay in the land for hundreds of years, says a waste management specialist.

PETALING JAYA: The government has been urged to come up with a way in which the public can dispose of face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) without adding plastic materials to Malaysia’s landfills.

Solid Waste Management expert P Agamuthu of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia called for “affirmative action” on the collection of such materials.

“One of the biggest issues right now is the disposal of face masks by the public,” he said.

“The government has told us we need to wear masks when we go out in public, but it hasn’t told us how to throw them away properly.”

Environment and waste management specialist Theng Lee Chong recently estimated that more than 10 million masks were disposed of every day in Malaysia.

He said in a press interview that there was a potential for that number to hit 15 million.

“Face masks bring challenging environmental threats because they are non-degradable and will stay in the land for hundreds of years,” he said.

Clinical waste like PPE cannot be recycled due to the health risks they pose to recycling plant workers. So healthcare centres typically use specialist services to safely collect and incinerate their waste. But these services are inaccessible to the public.

Theng noted that the government had yet to address the issue.

“So far I haven’t heard of any specific moves from the government in managing PPE such as face masks,” he said.

Agamuthu said the government needed to offer a convenient and safe disposal method to the public.

“The government should create a way to collect clinical waste,” he said, noting that South Korea was quick to implement a hazardous waste collection system when it was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.