An expert warned people against blindly discarding face masks due to the risk of infecting others.
Many restaurants are at a loss of how to get rid of face masks left behind by customers.
A 24-year-old employee at a Shibuya bar said that masks left behind on sofas and tables by customers are causing difficulties. There are as many as five or six discarded face masks a day, he said.
“Although we’ve asked customers to take their face masks home, some people leave them behind,” the employee said.
“As I can’t wear gloves while working, I have no choice but to pick up the face masks with my bare hands,” he said, voicing concern over being infected.
Face mask litter is also affecting trash collection by volunteers.
Green Bird, a Tokyo nonprofit engaged in trash pickup in and outside Japan, suspended its activities late last month.
The organization pointed to the risk of staff and volunteers being infected with the virus when touching abandoned face masks or cigarette butts as one of the reasons behind the suspension.
It concluded that even using work gloves and tongs, together with the thorough washing of hands, are not enough to completely eliminate the risk of infection.
In a 30-minute litter pickup session in the Harajuku district of Tokyo on March 11 involving only staff members of the organization, five discarded face masks were found.
Masayuki Ishida, an infectious disease expert and doctor at Chikamori Hospital in the city of Kochi, warned that “the risk of infection through a discarded face mask is not zero.”
Certain types of coronavirus can survive for six to nine days on plastic containers in temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius, according to Ishida.
He recommended that people avoid touching other people’s masks with their bare hands. He also said that people should hold face masks by the ear loops when throwing them away.
“While people can reduce the risk of infections if they take the face masks off when they don’t need them, I’d like people to dispose of them properly,” he said.