Littering Pandemic

There are several items that people are now using as protective equipment to protect themselves from the coronavirus, including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer bottles.

Unfortunately, the amount of litter on the streets is only increasing as people are discarding their protective equipment on the ground.

“Personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks, should be disposed of in garbage containers,” said Alexandra Kuchta from
the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Researchers are calling this surge of litter “Covid waste.” Divers are noticing more quantities of masks, gloves and plastic hand sanitizer containers. Conservationists are warning that the pandemic could spark a huge surge in ocean pollution and will affect marine life.

Based on historical data, it is expected that around 75 percent of the used masks, as well as gloves and other waste relating to the pandemic, will end up in landfills or floating in the seas.

Since the world has been ordering billions of disposable, one-time use masks, it poses the risk of eventually having more masks in the sea than jellyfish.

Having this many masks in the ocean would be a huge contributor to plastic waste. They could take as long as 450 years to completely decompose.

Masks contain a kind of plastic called polypropylene which is a type of microplastic. Microplastics are extremely harmful to the environment because they break down into small pieces that may never properly decompose. They also can potentially carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector for diseases in the environment. Since there are now high amounts of pollution and littering because of the pandemic, it is important to reduce our impact as much as possible. This means throwing away trash when necessary and recycling when possible.

“One of the biggest impacts the community can make is learning how to properly recycle,” said Kutcha. “Many county landfills are experiencing issues with their recycling program due to the high level of contamination.”

The more that the community knows about proper disposal and recycling, the less waste will be polluted into our world and our oceans.

“Education is key to solving this issue,” Kutcha said. “Residents tend to mix non- recyclables thereby contaminating the loads. When these loads are contaminated, it cannot be recycled and therefore can only go to the landfill.”

Some counties have issued fines for those who litter masks and gloves, while others leave it up to the community’s own discretion.

It is important to keep the environment in mind when disposing of trash, recyclables and more specifically, protective equipment for the pandemic. Every time a mask or glove is thrown on the floor instead of thrown in the garbage, it directly affects the oceans and the environment.

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