The Covid-19 outbreak may have offered the planet a temporary, but not long-lasting, breather when it comes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but it has also given the Earth a new environmental scourge: latex gloves and face masks on beaches.
A lot of organizations have raised concerns that oceans, rivers, and sewers are increasingly overwhelmed with disposable face masks, latex gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and other non-recyclable personal protective equipment ( PPE) as the world continues to struggle with Covid-19.
The French ocean conservation group, Operation Mer Propre, frequently records its ocean-cleaning operations on social media and has documented seeing, in particular, more PPE pieces in the Mediterranean Sea.
“Very worrying about the new waste related to COVID… We pick [this kind of pollution] up at every clean now, mainly latex gloves,” Opération Mer Propre posted on Facebook May 20.
“This is the first disposable masks to arrive in the Mediterranean,” the group wrote after a clean-up operation on May 23. “It’s just the beginning and if nothing changes it will become a real ecological disaster and maybe even health [one].”
And it’s not just Europe or the natural environment, that feels the burn. A number of U.S. city officials have also confirmed that sewers and stormwater pumping stations are being clogged with latex gloves and face masks, which they assume many residents are flushing down toilets.
Although there is no information on the scale of the problem yet, the Associated Press contacted 15 U.S. city authorities and all reported that since the pandemic started, there have been considerably more sewer clogging and drainage problems. This could be related to people flushing PPE or, they say, it could be due to people flushing alternative solutions to toilet tissue in the midst of early-lockdown panic buying.
In the light of this environmental pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement telling citizens to dispose of the PPE properly. Advice included not putting used disinfectant wipes, gloves, masks, PPE, or any medical waste in recycling bins as it could be infected with pathogens and is considered a health hazard.
A number of recycling organizations have encouraged people to dispose of discarded masks and gloves safely by putting them in general refuse. It should also be self-evident that littering PPE is gross, unconsidered, and hazardous, so be sure to safely place the PPE in the appropriate general refuse bin if you’re out in public.
“No one should be leaving used plastic gloves or masks on the ground in a parking lot or tossing them into the bushes,” David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), said in a statement. “Discarded contaminated PPE on the ground increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and has negative impacts on the environment.”