How COVID-19 PPE Is the New Pollution

How COVID-19 PPE Is the New Pollution

By Charity Hupp

This year, we have all stayed at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic. While you’re thinking about how to celebrate the end of year festivities with your family, spring is already at the front of your mind.
 
You have gone a whole year without going to parks, playgrounds, and beaches. You spent countless hours helping your children with that online schooling thing. Endless hours have been spent collaborating with your boss trying to make working – work. Talk about stress!
 
Let’s face it, 2020 turned you into a hermit crab in an oversized shell… Only ever leaving your home when it was essential. You can already imagine the day that you leave your home with your family. Your beach bag and extra sunscreen in hand. You and your family deserve this!
 
You imagine arriving at your local beach and you’re ready for some fun in the sun. Your children are the happiest you’ve seen them in over a year. Besides Christmas morning, of course. You can feel the sand going into the crevices between your toes. Reminding you of a warm day at the beach at a time when the world wasn’t so complicated.
 
In the midst of your childhood day-dream, you snap back to reality. You need to find the perfect spot on the beach for your belongings before somebody else snags your spot! Except, you notice something on the beach that you didn’t expect.
 
Across the shoreline, you see that your beach is full of single-use face masks and gloves. Uggggg! What is the world coming to?

First COVID-19, Now This?

The World Health Organization estimated a need for 89 million single-use face masks monthly to help stop the spread of coronavirus. That’s approximately 1,068 billion face masks needed for an entire year. Yet, this estimation was made in March of 2020. So, the actual number could be far larger because the numbers of positive cases continue to skyrocket.
 
As plastic pollution ends up where you know it shouldn’t be, it’s no wonder that face masks would end up with the same fate by going to the landfill or worse, contaminating the environment. All because of us, me and you. Doing everything we can to just protect ourselves and our loved ones. We are hurting the environment.

The Problem with Waste Management and Medical PPE

Medical professionals undergo training on how to properly dispose of personal protective equipment (PPE). The use of biodegradable bags limits people’s exposure to hazardous medical waste. These bags end up at the landfill, where they are then prepared for incineration, after the sterilization process.
 
The problem with this is that PPE that is disposed of by the public is treated as household waste, rather than hazardous waste.
 
Household waste does not go through the same standards of disposal as medical waste. About 52% of waste in the United States goes to landfills. So, the next time you throw away your PPE don’t forget it will most likely end up at a landfill.

COVID-19 PPE: A Serious Threat to Marine Life

We already know that our PPE is being found in our streets and our landfills. Litter is often swept by the wind or rain carrying it into storm drains. It ends up laying on our beaches, flowing in our rivers, and floating in our oceans. While this may seem only a nuisance to us, this is a very serious threat to marine life and their habitats.
 
An improperly disposed of face mask can cause animals to become ensnared. This can cause limb amputation, starvation, and death.
 
A glove can be mistaken for food by marine life, which so happens to be a regular occurrence. If this happens… The animals’ stomach fills up with the material which causes decreased food intake, thus causing starvation and eventually death.

How To Get Rid of Used PPE

You couldn’t be more wrong. Unfortunately, you cannot recycle PPE for  two reasons.
 
The first, is that PPE is considered a hazardous material and should be disposed of in the correct way to decrease exposure. You wouldn’t want your waste to get someone sick, right?
 
The second reason is that most PPE is made of flimsy materials. These materials can get stuck or clog the sorting equipment at a recycling center. Either way, for once recycling is a bad idea.
 
The best way to dispose of your PPE at home is to put it into a sealed bag and then into your trash bin. This way you can cut the spread of your germs from the PPE when it’s handled by waste management employees. This also helps keep your PPE from falling out of your trash bin and contributing to the litter problem.

What You Can Do

Small actions everyday inspire great change. Let’s talk about substituting your PPE to avoid harming the environment altogether. And how you can help support the clean-up process.

Substitute Your PPE

Does the fact that PPE from your home ends up as litter make you feel uneasy? Avoid this feeling all together by substituting your PPE.
 
A great way to substitute the use of single-use face masks in your home is by using reusable cloth face masks. These types of face masks are great because they are reusable. And they aren’t going to end up in your waste bin. You can wash them by hand with a little soap and water. This also offers more supplies for our essential healthcare workers, who are at a higher risk of exposure.
 
Can’t find the time to go out and buy a reusable cloth face mask? You can find plenty of alternatives online that have more benefits. Mask material and comfort, for instance. Though, with the increased demand for these products, you may find the prices surprising.
 
An easy cost-efficient alternative is using something in your home. A popular alternative is using a bandana. Or even repurposing an old shirt into your very own custom reusable face mask. You can even make this a fun DIY activity for the kiddos.
 
A great way to substitute the use of gloves in your home is by increasing your hand hygiene. If you feel that you have to use gloves for cleaning or disinfecting in your home, opt-in for a reusable set of gloves. The kind used for washing dishes would be a great choice!

Make OBP your Amazon Smile Recipient

Amazon Smile is an amazing program where you can donate to an organization of your choice. You will still get the same low prices when buying products on their platform. All the while, Amazon will donate 0.5% to your selected organization. Once you choose Ocean Blue Project as your recipient, the donations come from Amazon automatically. It’s like residual income, but for giving.
 
While there are over a million organizations that you can choose from on Amazon, Ocean Blue Project is one that helps address the issue of litter in our waterways.
 
The generous donations of our supporters make it possible for the volunteers to conduct beach and river cleanups. These protect the world’s oceans, marine life, and endangered species.
 
Donating to Ocean Blue Project will help with the removal of hazardous materials from beaches and rivers. Removing COVID-19 PPE, such as single-use face masks and gloves, is a part of the effort.
 
Take two minutes right now to select Ocean Blue Project as your Smile recipient. Our easy to follow instructions are here.
 

Author Bio: Charity Hupp is a freelance copywriter, reader, and researcher living in Ohio. In her spare time, she loves spending time outdoors and reconnecting with nature.

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