PPE or Personal Protective Equipment has become a very familiar topic of conversation during this devastating crisis. Yet what if the PPE supposed to protect us from a deadly emergency is creating a whole new disaster of its own?
Discarded masks, latex gloves and other disposable PPE pose a significant environmental threat. Medical supplies will no doubt be discarded properly, however this summer lots of people will head to the beach and as Coronavirus is very much likely here to stay lots of people will be wearing those masks and latex gloves in public places. Making sure these are properly thrown away will be solely our responsibility.
But we already know how this has played out with plastic straws, cotton swabs and plastic bottles that now pollute our rivers, seas and oceans. Will masks, respirators, gloves, sanitizer bottles and disinfecting wipes join the growing list of plastic trash?
As plans are drawn up to boost the production of masks for regular citizens, will instructions for their disposable be included? Will our oceans in 2021 resemble today’s supermarket exits with gloves strewn all over parking lots by consumers?
Just think how much more plastic will be thrown away with a sharp increase in the manufacture cheap, single use items. A microplastics expert at Louisiana State University recently started geotagging the PPE waste he was finding in his local area. Dr Mark Benfield said “It was a lot more PPE waste than I expected”. He has expanded that into a nationwide survey to track how much PPE is ending up on the streets.
The problem is not just that they can’t be recycled and must go in the normal trash. Surgical masks, for instance, are made from plastics such as polypropylene and those respirator masks from the hardware store contain polyurethane. These are both virgin synthetic plastics that when entering the sewer system, break down into microplastics and poison our waters and marine wildlife with the chemicals they contain.
Although personal protection plays a vital role in keeping us safe, the potential environmental disaster really bothers us and there seems to be no other solution than asking everyone to use common sense. Even though there are no real options for recycling this material, we do have several ways in which you can manage your used PPE in this crisis. First of all check your country local guidance on the disposal of PPE.
What we have managed to find as an advice is following:
Stay safe during this difficult moment and if you’d like to help the environment, why not take a look at these sustainable manufacturers, that have manufactured fashion face covers. We have to make a disclaimer here: these face covers are not offering PPE protection and are not medical grade masks. But many countries advice to cover your mouth even with a cloth mask or scarf. So why not support sustainable manufacturers, that are using hemp, organic cotton, upcycled textile and other green fabrics?
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