Pandemic waste: PPE litter may last for years

A year after the pandemic began, medical trash is piling up.

Even after the pandemic is over – once COVID-19 restrictions have ended and people have returned to life as normal – one thing will remain: Pandemic trash.

It was evident even in the early days of the pandemic: A discarded face mask here; a lost latex glove there. And evironmental experts say it’s only gotten worse as the pandemic raged on.

The Ocean Conservancy has noted the rise of used PPE – that’s Personal Protective Equipment – washing up on beaches and clogging waterways around the globe. A report from last month says volunteers have picked up more than 107,000 pieces of PPE since last June.

They’re not the only ones. Volunteers in New Jersey picked up more than 1,100 pieces of PPE during fall cleanups. Virginia crews nabbed more than 500 pieces of PPE last year.

The bulk of the trash is old surgical face masks. Made from synthetic materials, they pose a particular threat.

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“The masks, the top and bottom layers, are both flexible plastics,” said Katie Register, executive director or Clean Virginia Waterways, in an interview with Route Fifty. “Like any other plastic, once they get into the environment they start to break up into smaller pieces of plastic.”

That plastic gets eaten by small fish, which get eaten by larger fish, which cause myriad problems for ecological systems.

Some governments are attempting to tackle the problem with new fines and public information campaigns. Those measures are a start, but it will take a lot of effort to reverse the problem.

You can read the full story here.

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