San Diego

Environmentalists Track Increase in Face Masks and Trash Since Pandemic

Volunteers said they're picking up dozens of face masks from beaches, parks and neighborhoods every day since the start of the pandemic

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Local environmentalists are reporting an increase in masks littered across beaches, parks and neighborhoods since the start of the pandemic.

Members of "I Love a Clean San Diego" and "Don’t Trash Mission Beach" told NBC 7 they are trying to keep up with clean-up efforts but need the communities’ help.

“I picked up three (disposable face masks) on my way to see you here today,” said Ian Monahan, Communications Manager for "I Love a Clean San Diego." “We never used to account for this before and in our last clean up volunteers reported cleaning up 3,000 disposable face masks…Those masks float around just like plastic bags, they actually are plastic and when plastic makes it into the natural environment it breaks down into microplastics, meaning it never goes away. It actually makes it into our food system, into fish, into wild-life and it’s very toxic.”

Monahan said he’s urging people to use cloth face masks only.

Cathy Ives, a member of "Don’t Trash Mission Beach" said she’s starting to pick up more reusable face masks than she was before. “(Reusable face masks), I do wash and then they get donated to the homeless who also need masks, so I’ve donated over 200 masks that are reusable,” said Ives.

But volunteers said they’re not just cleaning up more face masks, but more litter in general.  

“There’s been an overall sense of lawlessness related to the pandemic. People just don’t seem to care as much as they used to so they’re leaving things behind that you wouldn’t normally see,” said Tony Sanfelice, who has seen an increase in firework debris, food wrappers and beer bottles. “It’s the residents who pick it up, so be mindful of that when you see trash on the beach,” said Sanfelice.

Members of "I Love a Clean San Diego" and "Don’t Trash Mission Beach" said they’re always looking for more volunteers to help beautify San Diego. Click here to learn more about "I Love a Clean San Diego" and here for information on "Don’t Trash Mission Beach."

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