Omaha nonprofit, volunteers break up the environmental impact of face masks

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – We see them everywhere and not just on our faces. The mask was on the floor, now in the trash.

With the help of a Midtown resident, let’s break down some amazing data on the environmental impact of PPE waste.

Just because they’re not here physically doesn’t mean the damage hasn’t been done yet.

“You will see them everywhere now,” said Cindy Tefft, a Keep Omaha Beautiful volunteer.

Masks have been thrown in parking lots and dumped really everywhere you can think, and Cindy can’t stand it.

“These masks are almost like a parachute. As soon as they open, the wind carries them and then they get stuck in bushes and trees, almost like plastic bags, ”said Tefft.

She says the forgotten PPE is more than just a thorn in the side, it is dangerous.

“We have no idea what types of bacteria are on the masks,” Tefft said.

These disposable face masks are not biodegradable. Instead, they’re made of plastic polymers that Ocean Conservancy says break down into smaller pieces, spread quickly, and release harmful chemicals.

“When it rains, it is channeled into our rainwater system. Ultimately, it makes it into our local waterways, and those local waterways are connected to our river, ”said Chris Stratman, Executive Director of Keep Omaha Beautiful.

Not only is it costly to our marine biology, but Cindy says many fail to realize the threat discarded masks pose to our four-legged neighbors.

“We have rabbits, squirrels and feral cats in the neighborhood and they can get caught very easily,” Tefft said.

This is one of the reasons you can see Cindy on any given day and pick up hundreds of them.

The executive director of KOB says while most people don’t pollute masks, those who throw them away often do so out of fear.

“People are nervous. They’re scared of having things like that around after they stop using them, ”Stratman said.

Keep Omaha Beautiful says it is unacceptable and this should be thrown in the trash. 129 billion masks are used worldwide every month. That’s about 3 million a minute.

There are too many chances for them to end up in places they shouldn’t.

“Last fall, I picked up like 35 masks along the 72nd and Dodge in four hours,” said Tefft.

Every now and then she’ll pick up trash and treasure, but Cindy says the real price is for everyone to do their part. Which throws old masks in the trash.

For people just as molested as Cindy, she can contact Keep Omaha Beautiful to volunteer as well.

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