The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in the past months. It forced us to take a break, something which has somehow revived nature.
The Earth seems to enjoy the time we were advised to stay at home and used it to recover from the decade-long damage she endured. However, while air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced, a new threat now concerns experts and environmentalists.
Namely, the face masks and gloves people now use on a daily basis end up in the sewers, rivers, and oceans.
A lot of organizations claim that since the beginning of the pandemic, sewers, rivers, and oceans have been swamped with hand sanitizer bottles, latex gloves, face masks, and other PPE (personal protective equipment).
French ocean conservation group Opération Mer Propre reported seeing dramatically more pieces of PPE in the Mediterranean Sea.
In a Facebook post the group explained:
“Very worrying about the new waste related to COVID… We pick [this kind of pollution] up at every clean now, mainly latex gloves.
This is the first disposable masks to arrive in the Mediterranean. It’s just the beginning and if nothing changes it will become a real ecological disaster and maybe even health [one].”
In a statement, the US Environmental Protection Agency informed people that they should properly dispose of PPE. Instead of throwing them in recycle bins, as they can be contaminated by pathogens, people were advised to dispose of PPE in appropriate general refuse bins.
David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), explained:
“No one should be leaving used plastic gloves or masks on the ground in a parking lot or tossing them into the bushes. Discarded contaminated PPE on the ground increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and has negative impacts on the environment.”
Éric Pauget, a French politician whose region includes the Côte d’Azur, called on the French president to address the impact of disposable masks on the environment, adding that these masks have a lifespan of 450 years, so they “ are an ecological timebomb given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet.”
Richard Thompson, director of the Marine Institute and professor of Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth, added:
“The role of plastics to help reduce the spread of coronavirus to keep people safe is absolutely clear.
The problem is in the design phase – PPE is clearly being used in settings that were never anticipated – and in proper disposal. The good news is that PPE in the sea is totally avoidable if we try.
We’re not using PPE in the sea, so there’s no reason that the natural environment will have to absorb it.”
Let’s all follow these guidelines and save our oceans!