Sat, 15 Aug 2020

NAIROBI, July 3 (Xinhua) -- As Kenya battles to contain the spread of COVID-19 among its citizens, another fight is silently taking place to curb environmental pollution arising from the effects of the disease.

The East African nation has seen a high number of citizens adhere to the use of face masks, one of the measures used to contain the disease. However, amid the increased usage, poor disposal of the masks and sanitizer bottles is brewing another crisis.

In many urban centers, the used masks are steadily becoming an eyesore as they become one of the most poorly disposed of items, alongside plastics and non-woven carrier bags.

The sight of used masks strewn in open fields, alongside roads and at dumpsites where their numbers have risen in the past months as usage increases have become common.

While there are recyclable masks in the market, most Kenyans are using disposable ones because they are cheaper, with each going for between 30 shillings (about 0.30 U.S. dollars).

It is these masks, which are changed and disposed daily are finding their way into the environment, with the situation worsened by poor disposal and waste management habits.

Kenya's Ministry of Health has continuously urged citizens to dispose of the masks correctly, but few are heeding to the calls.

"The disposed masks are becoming a hazard in residential areas because even children are picking and playing with them. They have become the new pollutants, adding to plastics and non-woven bags," said Evans Mulanda, a resident of Kayole in the east of Nairobi on Friday.

The low-income settlement, like many others across Nairobi, is among the worst hit as few follow disposal protocols.

Also hit are open air markets, public parks, bus termini and drainage, which get clogged by the dirt when it rains.

The downtown parts of the capital have also not been spared, with a survey on Friday showing that the areas are choking with plastics, used masks and the shopping bags.

At public parks, authorities are not grappling with only poor disposal of masks but also the other waste.

The number of people visiting the public parks in Kenya has risen in the past months following the outbreak of COVID-19, which saw the government ban public gatherings that don't adhere to social distancing.

Many adults and their children, thus, visit the parks at the weekend to unwind as they observe social and physical distancing.

But this has come with a price on the environment as the country battles COVID-19.

Ngong Hills Park, on the outskirts of Nairobi, is among the worst affected places as it hosts hordes of people every weekend, according to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

To curb pollution, the KFS banned the carrying of plastic bags and bottles into the park as well as alcoholic drinks, whose cans were also dumped there.

According to the National Environment Management Authority, more than 6,000 tons of waste is generated daily in five major towns, including the capital Nairobi, which accounts for 2,500 tons.

"With the outbreak of COVID-19, the tonnage of waste has surged if you add the masks, sanitizer containers, gloves and plastics used in packaging various products. If to dispose wrongly as it is being done, the collection becomes a problem leading to pollution, but this can be turned into a big business if recycled," said Ernest Manuyo, a lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi.

Mamo. B. Mamo, acting director-general of the National Environment Management Authority, notes that increased use of safety materials against COVID-19 has led to massive generation of waste that is posing challenges.

"These protective and safety materials are being used across the country in hospitals, shopping places, offices and homes. Most of them are single-use resulting in an increased waste generation which poses cross infections and environmental risks," Mamo says in a policy guideline issued after the outbreak of the disease.

He adds that used masks, gloves and other related items must be treated as contaminated items and disposed as infectious waste.

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