Coronavirus Refuse Spoils Ocean
by Anisha Dadia
Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. The holy trifecta of 2020’s must-have items. Keen to be responsible, albeit a little reluctant, most of us have now embraced what we have to do in order to flatten the curve and protect the vulnerable. And yet, when all is said and done…what happens to the waste?
What happens to all those disposable masks, gloves and endless streams of disinfectant? Were we naive in thinking that, with many factories closed and less people commuting, we were in fact saving the planet? Or were we horribly wrong?
Single use PPE has definitely played its part in the pandemic. Face shields and medically regulated face masks have certainly protected those on the front line from the virus’s airborne droplets and for that, we can all be grateful- yet, is the equipment recyclable? Is it even ethical to recycle these items?
Since we are still currently in the midst of the pandemic, not much research has come out about how Coronavirus Refuse Spoils our Ocean waste but the reality is that it certainly exists. You only have to look on the Instagram accounts of various beach clean-up non profits to see startling images: wreckages of blue disposable gloves and face masks washed ashore.
So who is to blame? Experts have told the public to wear masks and certainly, before the mass availability of adjustable, reusable masks, the only ones we could find (safely) were the disposable ones. And of course, due to the heightened precautions surrounding the virus, disposability meant better hygiene practises. Despite being better informed today than we were in March, the unavoidable reality of the situation is that there is plastic out there and it is ending up in our oceans.
This plastic is being mistaken for food by marine life and even breaking down into micro-plastics which is not only toxic for the sea creatures, but also for the humans who consume them. Clearly, moving away from single-use plastic hasn’t been so easy recently and ocean life is unfortunately suffering for it. The plastics industry needs to be accountable for the way in which they produce these items and our dependence on such products. We need to be smarter and more aware as consumers on our inevitable impact on our oceans.
So what can we do? Besides the obvious choices of either purchasing/ making non plastic reusable masks and trying to find hand sanitizer in eco-friendly containers, we all need to make a conscientious effort in trying to minimize our waste impact. That includes having a re-use and refill mentality for all plastic waste. We can also actively engage in beach clean up programs such as the one facilitated by Ocean Blue Projects.
They have chapters all along the west coast and even in New York and they’re growing. With the help of volunteers who are able to commit a few hours of their day to cleaning the beaches and with our smarter choices as consumers, ocean life won’t need to suffer. The result will be a cleaner environment for all, in spite of the pandemic. Learn more about plastic pollution.