A DAVAO City councilor is pushing to penalize Dabawenyos who are caught improperly disposing of their single-use face masks.
Councilor Mary Joselle Villafuerte on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 filed "The Face Mask Disposal Ordinance of Davao City," which was approved on first reading.
Under the proposed ordinance, "all used face masks should be treated as hazardous and contaminated materials," which should be properly disposed of.
Villafuerte, who is the 19th City Council committee chairperson on health, said during her privilege speech that she filed the measure due to the increasing use of face mask as a minimum protection against the transmission of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which remains to have no cure and medicine as of Wednesday, July 15.
"The reality of Covid-19 requires us to apply drastic changes to both our personal and public lives," the councilor said.
She cited an article from The Guardian, which stated that 120 countries, including the Philippines, have made wearing face masks compulsory to the public when going out.
However, Villafuerte, who is also a medical professional, noted that some are not properly disposing of their face mask, which she said is risky for cross-contamination.
"This may happen when masks contaminated with the virus are freely being disposed of as ordinary garbage," she said.
"Remember that there are asymptomatic virus carriers. There is a very real possibility that such a person may inadvertently spread the virus through improper disposal of his/her used face mask," she said, adding that it is concerning to know of the possibility that garbage collectors might get infected.
Another issue she cited is the worsening garbage problem, which improper mask disposal could cause.
Villafuerte said the material composition of surgical masks has been present in the environment, as these are made of a variety of synthetic plastic fibers. She added these do not decay naturally, and could cause problems to the city's waterways and may pose a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.
She also cited another unnamed report that in the United Kingdom, 60,000 tons of contaminated plastic wastes are added every year as a result of their usage of disposable masks.
According to the ordinance's provisions, all households should properly dispose of their used masks in a small black garbage bag and disinfect them with ordinary bleach solution. Bags containing masks must be properly closed before disposal.
The ordinance also advised that used masks be cut in half to avoid it being reused.
It also warns that disposable masks should not be flushed in the toilet or drains. Also, no masks shall be thrown in canals, streams, rivers, beaches, or any bodies of water.
Any person caught violating the proposed ordinance will be penalized.
Violators for the first offense will be fined P500, while P1,000 for the second offense, and P2,000 for the third and subsequent offense.
The measure will undergo a committee hearing to be jointly heard by the Committee on Health, Environment, Public Safety and Rules and Privileges.
Meanwhile, different environmental groups had been urging the public to use washable face masks.
Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (Idis) Executive Director Chinkie Peliño-Golle said they are suggesting the use of cloth masks since it is washable and will not pile up the garbage.
She clarified that she is not discouraging the use of surgical masks because according to health experts, it is more effective than the washable masks.
Peliño-Golle previously said that used masks and tissues, and other sanitary items should be properly disposed of not only to prevent the virus from further spreading but also to protect the environment.
EcoWaste Coalition Zero Waste campaigner Jove Benosa also said that face masks should be safely disposed of as improper disposal of these may contaminate the surroundings with germs that can make people sick.
Benosa said the virus can live on surfaces for a number of days, adding that discarded masks may become a potential source of infection.
He cited a new study published in the March 2020 issue of The Journal of Hospital Infection saying that "human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days."
He also said the arbitrary disposal of used masks may end up polluting water bodies and harming marine life.
Inappropriate disposal of used face masks, he said, may also lead to irresponsible recycling and reusing such.
He also cited a study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in the US that "disposable masks and respirators do not lend themselves to reuse because they work by trapping harmful particles inside the mesh of fibers of which they are made."
"This hazardous buildup cannot be cleaned or disinfected without damaging the fibers or other components of the device such as the straps or nose clip," the study said.
Benosa said the EcoWaste Coalition asked the country's health authorities to craft specific guidelines on the proper disposal of face masks amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis.