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Single-use PPE items are impacting the environment

By Mah Noor, November 18 2020 —

It seems surreal that where only bottles and bags used to litter our neighbourhoods, we now see masks and gloves joining the ranks of that refuse as well.

The environmental impact of our actions seems to have slipped into the background as our lives have become dominated by the global pandemic. While we adjust to the difficulties of the world of today we need to keep in mind that without proper disposal, the waste we produce can have serious consequences. With increasing measures to try to limit the spread of the virus has also come an increased amount of waste, as disposable masks and gloves are now sold in bulk almost everywhere and individuals have easier access to them.

Gloves, masks and wipes are all considered single-use items, whether or not there’s plastic in the product themselves or the packaging they come in. Pollution from plastics was already a huge issue before the pandemic and it has only grown exponentially worse. Masks and gloves can now be seen littering every street as well as lakes and rivers.

Littering was already an extremely harmful issue — especially for wildlife — as some animals end up consuming this waste. Since they cannot digest plastic, it ends up sitting in their stomachs and causing them massive health issues as well as starvation due to a reduced appetite from feeling as if they are full when in fact garbage is taking up space in their stomachs. Not only is it important that individuals properly dispose of their single-use items but governments also need to be coming up with effective strategies for managing this waste. The consequences of not doing so include risks to not only the environment but also to the public as infected used masks as well as improper disposal of them, such as uncontrolled incineration which leads to toxins being released into the environment, could lead to a secondary transmission of COVID-19.

It is important for governments to encourage their citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing and proper sanitation in response to this crisis, but it is also their responsibility to enact policies for the proper disposal of the waste that is occurring due to the pandemic.

There are actions that all of us can take to help decrease the use and waste of single-use plastics. One way to decrease the use of single-use items is to buy a reusable mask. It does not need to be extremely expensive, just as long as it is well made and gets the job done. Combined with keeping a safe distance from others, a fairly simple one should be more than enough. If you buy a few you can rotate through them and wash them every few days to make sure you are keeping yourself and others as safe as possible while also wasting less water by washing a single one every single day.

Another thing you can do is to stop using gloves. It is much safer to wash your hands as often as necessary and always before eating or touching your face. Gloves give us the illusion of protection, but in reality having some hand sanitizer handy may be the better option. As always, the actions of one person may not seem like much but when many individuals try to do their best and choose more environmentally friendly options it can make a large difference.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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