The COVID-19’s disposable masks and plastic gloves are now polluting the world, creating a massive plastic waste dilemma that requires serious and immediate actions. Its use is essential to protect humans from the virus, but improper management of these single-use pieces threatens the environment.
According to BBC, globally, the world’s population is carelessly throwing away 129 billion masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month during the pandemic, establishing a new wave of plastic pollution. Improper medical waste disposal that does not comply with existing regulations will pollute land and waters and endanger the fauna and ecosystems. Thus, safe waste management is a must to minimize environmental impacts without abandoning the importance of wearing masks and gloves to prevent the spread of disease.
“Throughout 2020, used masks are the culprit that ensnares animals like birds and turtles, leading some to death,” said Chandra Wahyu Purnomo at UGM Agrotechnology Innovation Center (PIAT), Friday (30/4).
Encouraged by this concern, Universitas Gadjah Mada collaborates with the Bandung Institute of Technology and Sebelas Maret University to create Dumask (Dropbox-Used Mask), a program specializing in medical waste management system for disposable masks and plastic gloves.
“Dumask is specially made to provide a safe and environmentally friendly disposal route for used masks and gloves collected from the general public,” he said.
This project is funded by the Indonesian Collaborative Research Program (PPKI) starting February 2021. Firstly, boxes will be installed in several locations to collect the used masks and gloves. Later, an application will regularly monitor the capacity of the drop boxes. Notifications will appear on the application and website when boxes are full. Then, responsible officers will take the boxes and decompose the waste by heating it at high temperatures (pyrolysis).
“UGM has Recycling Innovation House (RINDU), a center for waste and waste technology processing and development that has adequate thermal-tech waste destruction equipment, here at PIAT,” he said.
One collecting box of a volume of 30 liters can accommodate around 500 used masks/gloves. As it is still on a small scale, a carton box costs 50 thousand rupiahs and will be cheaper once mass production begins. Also, the production speed hugely depends on the speed of the box company and the workshop to fulfill the needs for Dumask materials, namely carton boxes and stainless steel.
“Finding a carton box manufacturing company tailored for large capacity is quite difficult in Yogyakarta, so is getting people to dispose of litter, especially masks and gloves, to the provided drop boxes,” he explained.
Chandra added that other partner universities would take care of the development of the pyrolysis reactor. Members of the Indonesia Solid Waste Forum (ISWF), such as Airlangga University, Ahmad Dahlan University, ATK Polytechnic, Janabadra University, and Proklamasi 45 University, also supported the project. He also hoped local governments could soon adopt Dumask to help provide a proper medical waste management system capable of minimizing pandemic-caused plastic threats.
Author: Agung Nugroho