Questions for ‘Unmasking the pandemic’s pollution problem’

a photo of a surgical mask on a sidewalk

This surgical mask is just one of the many types of personal protective equipment, or PPE, that has begun turning up as litter since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite appearing to be made of paper, such masks contain some plastic, which will retard their breakdown in the environment.

Joana Prata/Univ. of Aveiro

To accompany “Unmasking the pandemic’s pollution problem


Before Reading:

1.  How have the buying habits of you or the people around you changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began?

2.  Sometimes people discard trash where they shouldn’t. What kinds of trash do you see in your neighborhood? Have you seen any trash that could be linked to pandemic?

During Reading:

1.  What are microplastics?

2.  Give three examples of how pandemic pollution is becoming a global issue.

3.  List ways that the pandemic affected how people shop.

4.  How many times can the fibers from a cardboard box be recycled?

5.  How long can the virus behind COVID-19 live on cardboard? How long on plastic?

6.  According to a 2017 study, what percent of all plastic has ever been recycled? What has happened to the rest?

7.  About how many face masks and gloves are used worldwide every month? 

8.  What are two ways that scientists have come up with to deal with PPE used by medical professionals fighting the pandemic?

9.  What does Joana Prata suspect may be the biggest challenge to reducing the amount of pollution stemming from the pandemic?

10. What are some ways that individuals can help deal with pandemic pollution?

After Reading:

1.  Not everything can be recycled. What can be recycled differs from place to place. Research what items can be recycled in your community. Come up with a plan for how you, your home or your school can increase the amount of trash that goes to recycling instead of into a landfill.

2.  With a partner, brainstorm three methods not mentioned in the story that could help deal with pandemic pollution.