Experts urge Rwandans to dispose face masks responsibly

/the_burtons/Getty Images via VCG
According to an estimate by the UN trade body, UNCTAD, global face masks sales hit some $166 billion in 2021, up from around $800 million in 2019. /the_burtons/Getty Images via CFP

Rwandans need to be mindful of the disposal of face masks meant to protect people from contracting COVID-19, a top expert said on Wednesday, urging the country’s public to discard the materials, especially single-use face masks and PPE shields in the right manner to avoid environmental pollution.

The New Times local news outlet reports Abias Maniragaba, a Lecturer at the University of Lay Adventists of Kigali, to say that face masks should be sorted from other waste because they are considered to be hazardous.

“Some people treat face mask waste like any other garbage,” Maniragaba said.

He pointed out that homes should have designated bags for face masks instead of mixing them with other waste.

“Garbage collectors must also carry them separately from other waste,” the lecturer added, calling for a nationwide campaign to sensitize people on waste sorting.

The United Nations in July warned that fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars.

According to an estimate by the U.N. trade body, UNCTAD, global sales hit some 166 U.S. billion dollars in 2021, up from around 800 million U.S. dollars in 2019.

Rwanda, like most countries globally, has mandated face mask-wearing by all persons while in public.

The coverings complement other COVID-19 containment measures including hand hygiene and social distancing.

As global production of the masks continues to surge, the U.N. is concerned that an estimated 75 percent of used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, may end up in landfills, or floating in the seas.

In efforts to avoid this from happening in Rwanda, environmental stakeholders in the country have rolled out sensitization campaigns to spread information on the importance of disposing the masks correctly.

Zoubeda Faida, an environmental activist and co-founder of Save Environment Initiative (SEI), a non-governmental organization, says public awareness is still needed.

“When people understand why they should separate the used face masks from other waste, they will help in conserving the environment while preventing pollution,” The New Times quotes her.