A brand new report has revealed that used masks and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) that were worn in order to protect one’s self during the COVID-19 pandemic have started to hurt conservation efforts and the environments of beaches the world around.
This past Wednesday, An environmental group from New Jersey, Clean Ocean Action, released its annual report about its “Beach Sweeps.” This has revealed that 2020 showed a new problem, PPE litter.
In mid-2020, the environmental group put PPE waste on their data card after the spring sweep was forced to be cancelled due to the pandemic. The group talked about the increase in PPE waste in its annual report, saying:
“Amidst the global COVID-19 public health crisis, the world is facing an environmental health risk caused by littering of personal protective equipment (PPE). NJ towns and municipalities are witnessing increased dumping and littering of used masks and disposable gloves. All litter eventually finds its way to the ocean and will end-up as marine debris. As a result, COA added PPE to the Fall 2020 Data Card. In total 1,113 pieces of PPE were collected at the Fall 2020 Beach Sweeps.”
As reported by the Associated Press, in the latter half of 2020, almost 107,000 individual pieces of PPE waste were cleaned up by volunteers all around the world, according to the Ocean Conservancy group. Reportedly, the members of the group believe that the actual numbers for PPE waste for the year is much higher.
“Used correctly PPE saves lives; disposed of incorrectly it kills marine life,” Clean Ocean Action’s executive director, Cindy Zipf, stated. “PPE litter is a gross result of the pandemic, and 100% avoidable. Use PPE properly, then dispose of it properly in a trash can. It’s not hard and it’s the least we can do for this marvel of a planet we all live on, not to mention ourselves.”
The senior director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, Nicholas Mallos, has stated that “once in the environment, disposable PPE act like any other single-use plastic, likely never breaking down but rather breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces and persisting indefinitely … In fact, a recent study found that a single disposable mask can shed up to 173,000 microfibers — tiny plastic fibers — in a single day.”
“What this means is that the damage is cumulative, adding up over time to the massive amount of plastics already entering our ocean each year,” Mallos went on to say. “PPE has been vital in protecting human health, but the resulting pollution has also exposed that our waste systems are not equipped to handle crises like this.”