Improper Disposal of PPE Contributes to Waste
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for PPE, which has the potential to become litter.
The use of disposable PPE such as facial masks, gowns and gloves is now a necessary part of daily life, but it has also raised an issue of PPE pollution.
Because COVID-19 is classified as a Category B infectious substance by the CDC, PPE that is used by healthcare personnel is also classified as such. The Category B classification means that PPE can be disposed of the same way as ordinary trash and “can go to the solid waste stream” rather than being treated as biohazard waste.
Masks and other forms of PPE have contributed to litter as a result of being classified as trash. In Virginia, where there is a state-wide mask mandate, significant amounts of masks and gloves were found during annual trash clean-up hosted by Longwood University’s Clean Virginia Waterways. PPE accounted for one percent of the collected trash in the 2020 clean-up.
“The data our volunteers collect always tells a story, and the story of 2020 definitely included a lot of personal protection equipment, PPE, we found masks and gloves and even sanitizing wipes,” said Katie Register, executive director of Longwood University’s Clean Virginia Waterways.
Register recommends that people use cloth masks so they can be washed and reused, avoiding litter. She also suggests cutting the ear loops from disposable masks before discarding them. Plastics don’t biodegrade, so the more plastic PPE can be avoided during this time, the better.