While the world has witnessed a reduction in air pollution as many countries started enforcing lockdowns, there has been a tradeoff: pollution in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE). Masks and gloves litter city streets, neighborhoods, parks, parking lots, and are overflowing from public trash cans. Recently, the World Wildlife Fund published a report that illustrates the massive threat posed by incorrect disposal of PPE.
According to the report, “If even only 1% of the masks were disposed of incorrectly and perhaps dispersed in nature this would result in 10 million masks per month dispersed in the environment. Considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams this would lead to the dispersion of over 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature: a dangerous scenario that must be defused.”
Just like most forms of plastic pollution, PPE litter poses an insidious threat to wildlife. The WWF report states, “Increasing quantities of masks and gloves are sighted in the sea where they risk becoming lethal for turtles and fish that mistake them for prey to feed on. An estimate by the Polytechnic of Turin says that for Phase 2, in which production and social activities will be gradually restarted, 1 billion masks and half a billion gloves per month will be needed. These are very high quantities that require those who use these protective devices to assume responsibility: each of us must make an effort to ensure that we proceed with correct disposal and with the least possible impact on nature.”
We know masks are good for protection and for giving us a sense of control in an otherwise scary situation. But if you’re not wearing reusable masks, please make sure you are disposing of them properly and not littering.