1.6 Billion Disposable Masks Entered Our Oceans in 2020
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1.6 Billion Disposable Masks Entered Our Oceans in 2020

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Disposable masks pollution ocean

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The Briefing

  • 52 billion disposable face masks were produced in 2020 (this includes N95 respirators and surgical masks)
  • It’s estimated that 1.6 billion of these masks ended up in our oceans
  • This equates to roughly 5,500 tons of plastic pollution

Demand for Disposable Masks Skyrockets in 2020

Following the World Health Organization’s formal declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world quickly mandated the use of face masks in public spaces.

This led to a massive demand shock, prompting factories to begin producing disposable masks at full capacity. The majority of these masks were produced in China, and in April 2020, the country reported a staggering daily production figure of 450 million masks.

Plastic Pollution: A Lesser Known Side Effect

In Ocean Asia’s 2020 report, Masks on the Beach, researchers developed a formula to provide reasonable estimates for the number of disposable masks entering the environment.

Given an annual production figure of 52 billion disposable masks and a loss rate of 3% (the percentage of masks that escape water management systems), the team concluded that nearly 1.6 billion face masks wound up in our oceans in 2020. This amounts to approximately 5,500 tons of plastic pollution.

These masks are commonly made of polypropylene, which easily breaks up into microplastics. While the effects of microplastics on human health are not yet determined, these fragments are incredibly common in our water supply—for example, 94% of U.S. tap water is deemed to be contaminated.

Disposable Doesn’t Mean They’re Gone

Despite their single-use nature, disposable masks are expected to take more than four centuries to decompose while in the ocean. Here’s how this compares to other items we use on a day-to-day basis.

ItemYears Needed to Biodegrade
Disposable masks450
Disposable diaper450
Plastic bottle450
Aluminum can200
Styrofoam cup50
Plastic grocery bag20
Cigarette butt10

The pandemic has extended well into 2021, and the number of disposable masks polluting our oceans is likely to continue growing.

With this in mind, various companies and organizations are beginning to search for a solution. One noteworthy example is Plaxtil, which is developing a method for recycling surgical masks so that the raw materials can be used for other products.

»Like this? Then you might enjoy this infographic on the flow of plastic waste.

Where does this data come from?

Source: Oceans Asia, Statista, Plastic Collectors

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Datastream

The Accelerating Frequency of Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events, like droughts and heatwaves, have become more common over the years. But things are expected to get worse.

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Extreme Weather Events

The Briefing

  • We’re already seeing the impact of climate change—today, droughts, heatwaves, and extreme rainstorms are 2x more frequent than they were a century ago
  • In less than a decade, Earth’s climate is expected to warm another 0.5°C
  • If this happens, heatwaves will be 4.1x more frequent than they were in the 1850-1900s

The Accelerating Frequency of Extreme Weather

The world is already witnessing the effects of climate change.

A few months ago, the western U.S. experienced one of the worst droughts it’s seen in the last 20 years. At the same time, southern Europe roasted in an extreme heatwave, with temperatures reaching 45°C in some parts.

But things are only expected to get worse in the near future. Here’s a look at how much extreme climate events have changed over the last 200 years, and what’s to come if global temperatures keep rising.

A Century of Warming

The global surface temperature has increased by about 1°C since the 1850s. And according to the IPCC, this warming has been indisputably caused by human influence.

As the global temperatures have risen, the frequency of extreme weather events have increased along with it. Heatwaves, droughts and extreme rainstorms used to happen once in a decade on average, but now:

  • Heatwaves are 2.8x more frequent
  • Droughts are 1.7x more frequent
  • Extreme rainstorms are 1.3x more frequent

By 2030, the global surface temperature is expected to rise 1.5°C above the Earth’s baseline temperature, which means that:

  • Heatwaves would be 4.1x more frequent
  • Droughts would be 2x more frequent
  • Extreme rainstorms would be 1.5x more frequent

The Ripple Effects of Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events have far-reaching impacts on communities, especially when they cause critical system failures.

Mass infrastructure breakdowns during Hurricane Ida this year caused widespread power outages in the state of Louisiana that lasted for several days. In 2020, wildfires in Syria devastated hundreds of villages and injured dozens of civilians with skin burns and breathing complications.

As extreme weather events continue to increase in frequency, and communities become increasingly more at risk, sound infrastructure is becoming more important than ever.

Where does this data come from?

Source: IPCC
Details: The data used in this graphic is from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, which provides a high-level summary of the state of the climate, how it’s changing, and the role of human influence.

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Blockchain Applications: Tokenization of Real Assets

Tokenization is a future application of blockchain technology, and it could make investing in physical assets much easier. (Sponsored Content)

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The Briefing

  • Tokenization is a solution that divides the ownership of an asset into digital tokens
  • This process could democratize investment in physical assets

Blockchain Applications: Tokenization of Real Assets

Did you know that blockchain has the potential to transform the way we invest in physical assets?

Tokenization is a solution that divides the ownership of an asset (such as a building) into digital tokens. These tokens act as “shares”, and are similar to non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The difference here, however, is that the tokens are fungible and they are actually tied to the value of the asset.

In this graphic sponsored by Global X ETFs, we visualize how tokenization could be used in real estate.

Tokenization in Real Estate

Blockchain has strong potential in real estate investing because it mitigates many of the asset class’ hurdles. Here’s a brief round-up of its theoretical advantages:

Liquidity

Buying and selling real estate is normally a tedious process. If a property were to be tokenized, it would essentially cut out the middleman and allow buyers and sellers to transfer ownership directly.

These transfers would be as easy as buying and selling cryptocurrency.

Removing barriers to entry

Because properties are expensive, real estate investing is typically limited to institutional investors with large amounts of capital. Individuals can gain exposure through a real estate investment trust (REIT), but these vehicles can carry high minimums and fees.

Tokenization could enable individuals to buy and sell real estate in small denominations (even fractions of a token) and without traditional fees.

Transparency and security

Blockchains are decentralized, digital ledgers known for their security. Tampering with a blockchain’s data is incredibly difficult because the ledger is shared and verified by all of its users.

This provides investors with full transparency into the past transactions of a property, as well as an undeniable proof of ownership.

Democratizing Investment

If tokenization proves to be effective, it could be extended to a whole range of other physical assets—most of which have their own unique barriers. Consider the following table, which lists the 12-month and 10-year return of various luxury goods.

Category12-month return10-year return
Handbags+17%+108%
Wine+13%+127%
Collector cars+6%+193%
Watches+5%+89%
Rare whisky-4%+478%
Art-11%+71%

Source: Knight Frank (Dec 2020)

Rare luxury goods have historically been sold through live auctions, where the highest bidder is awarded ownership. Thanks to blockchain technology, this could change in the future. In fact, Sotheby’s (a 277-year-old auction house) recently began to accept cryptocurrency as a payment option in its auctions.

In short, tokenization has the potential to greatly reduce the barriers around alternative and physical assets. For investors, this means a much wider set of opportunities to pursue.

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