A substantial increase in improperly discarded gloves and masks causes concern for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). As the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) grows to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the amount of litter and trash has increased. SWANA urges Americans to dispose of these materials properly and recycle right during this pandemic, stating it is even more crucial now than ever before.
“No one should be leaving used plastic gloves or masks on the ground, in a parking lot or tossing them into the bushes,” said David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO, in a statement. “Discarded contaminated PPE on the ground increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and has negative impacts on the environment.”
SWANA reminds the public to use fresh PPE to avoid cross-contamination. When you are no longer using your PPE, be sure to find a trash can to dispose of the items. Everyone can do their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus by practicing sanitary behavior, properly discarding all masks, gloves and wipes and following social distancing orders.
National nonprofit Keep America Beautiful also is urging the proper disposal of PPE as well as cleaning supplies such as used sanitizing wipes.
"We have been hearing from more and more people who are seeing wipes, gloves and other related items on streets and walking trails, or being left behind near supermarkets and pharmacies," said Keep America Beautiful President and CEO Helen Lowman in a statement.
"The basic rules for proper trash disposal are taking on greater importance, given the COVID-19 virus," she added. "These materials are being used to protect us from possible contamination from COVID-19. If they are not disposed of properly, we are risking the spread of this life-threatening virus."
If a store provides wipes to clean off a cart, it likely has a trash receptacle nearby. If consumers are carrying their own wipes or gloves, make sure to properly dispose of used gloves, wipes and masks in a trash receptacle at the store or have a bag inside your vehicle to place the items in to dispose of at home.
Lowman also discourages people from picking up wipes or gloves they see littered because they could be contaminated.
"No one wants to spread the disease, so we must be careful to properly dispose of these materials," she said. "If you used the PPE, it's your responsibility to dispose of it."
Keep America Beautiful sent an urgent alert to its more than 650 nationwide affiliates, asking them to spread the word among their millions of volunteers. "We will get through this, working together and looking out for one another," she added.
Lowman also noted that recycling regulations may be shifting in communities due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Some communities have suspended recycling programs because of worker safety and other limitations. Keep America Beautiful recommends you check locally to understand what services are currently available in your community. If you or someone in your home has tested positive for the coronavirus, do not recycle your recyclables; place them in a bag that is securely closed and discard them in your trash container. This also applies to any used cleaning supplies, paper towels, tissues or PPE generated within a home or business with someone who has tested positive.