ReboundDoing What’s Right


Group urges cleanup as PPE pollution litters streets, oceans around the world

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jul 10, 2020

A new wave of pollution is littering our streets and shores, disposable face masks and plastic gloves.

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has surged around the world, with one study estimating a monthly usage of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally.

"The amount of PPE we're finding, even just anecdotally walking through our streets, is astounding," said Alex Ferron, Chapter Chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation.

Making matters worse, the pandemic has impacted some of the traditional methods used to tackle pollution.

Last year, Surfrider San Diego's beach clean-ups removed more than 16,000 pounds of trash from the coastline. But with social distancing laws, the nonprofit fears that number will be drastically lower in 2020.

"Plastic pollution hasn't stopped. Plastic is being used, if not more than ever," said Ferron.

The French nonprofit Opération Mer Propre is documenting PPE waste in the Mediterranean Sea, sharing videos and pictures of gloves and face coverings littering the seafloor.

Ferron says the pandemic also reversed other progress made by environmental groups.

"Initially, we saw a big trend away from reusable items at all, my coffee shop wouldn't take my mug, my grocery store wouldn't take my bag."

Ferron says she was OK with this safety precaution early on because little was known about the virus.

But now, she points to some of the latest CDC information, which says COVID is mainly spread from person-to-person, within close contact. Transmission through contaminated surfaces has not been documented.

A health expert statement signed by over 100 scientists around the world stated that reusable systems could be used safely by employing basic hygiene.

To try and tackle the problem, Surfrider San Diego launched a solo cleanup campaign, encouraging individuals to clean old and new waste polluting our communities.

"Empower people to go out and pick up trash. In their neighborhood, in their parks, at their local beach, wherever they feel comfortable, and do their part," said Ferron.

The nonprofit has guidelines on how to do this safely, urging people to wear a mask, use reusable gloves, and a trash grabber if possible. Also, they say to bring two bags to separate PPE from recyclables.

Those who can't get out and clean can do their part by making sure their PPE ends up in a trash can and not the ground.

Ferron says whether or not you live near a beach, you can make a difference.

"It's not just an ocean issue, it's an environment issue," Ferron said.