CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – An environmental group is appealing to the public to switch from wearing medical or surgical masks in this pandemic to reusable masks to save the environment.

The EcoWaste Coalition made this appeal as many of the items used to protect the public from the pandemic, like masks, bottles of alcohol, and hand sanitizers, have made their way to beaches and coastal lines that are also filled with plastic bags, sachets, straws, and other single-use items.

“While we fully support the wearing of face coverings or masks as part of the basic health protocol to stem the spread of COVID-19, we are deeply upset by the unchecked consumption and disposal of soiled masks that are ending up on our streets and in the beaches and seas,” said Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition national coordinator.

“This is very concerning as these throw-away masks, which are supposed to protect us and others from the dreaded virus, pose a real threat to aquatic life,” she said, warning marine animals might mistakenly eat, get choked or become entangled in them.

“Over time, discarded masks in the oceans will break down into extremely small particles and may contribute to the microplastic contamination of the food supply chain,” she added.

The alternative is to use fabric masks that are reusable and can be washed daily.

“To discourage the unrestrained use and disposal of throw-away masks, we urge the public to don reusable fabric masks, which can be easily washed with detergent or soap and safely reuse,” Lucero said.

“By opting for reusable or washable face masks, we avoid generating non-biodegradable and non-recyclable trash that only adds to the worsening plastic pollution crisis,” she said.

Lucero said limiting the use of medical masks will also ensure an adequate and steady supply for those who need them the most, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

EcoWaste also pointed out the need for the government’s sector on the environment to integrate the National Plan of Action for the Prevention, Reduction, and Management of Marine Litter (NPOA-ML) concrete policies and steps to cut down on coronavirus plastic waste and to stop such waste from entering the oceans.

The NPOA-ML is currently being finalized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB). (

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