The pandemic we’ve been facing for quite some time now has not only taken a toll on those who come down with the virus but also to the world as a whole. We are all wearing masks and taking extra precautions but, with that comes a serious toll on nature itself.

According to a study published in the journal Environment, Science & Technology our estimated use of face masks and gloves is quite enormous. Globally those numbers are somewhere between 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves. This happening on a monthly basis and well, adding up to a very large amount whether we want to accept it or not.

The abstract of this specific study goes as follows:

Plastics are essential in society as a widely available and inexpensive material. Mismanagement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the CVD-19 pandemic, with a monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in widespread environmental contamination. This poses a risk to public health as waste is a vector for SARS-CoV-2 virus, which survives up to 3 days on plastics, and there are also broad impacts to ecosystems and organisms. Concerns over the role of reusable plastics as vectors for SARS-CoV-2 virus contributed to the reversal of bans on single-use plastics, highly supported by the plastic industry. While not underestimating the importance of plastics in the prevention of CVD-19 transmission, it is imperative not to undermine recent progress made in the sustainable use of plastics. There is a need to assess alternatives that allow reductions of PPE and reinforce awareness on the proper public use and disposal. Finally, assessment of contamination and impacts of plastics driven by the pandemic will be required once the outbreak ends.

While some of these masks and gloves make their way to trash cans, some are thrown straight on the ground by those who litter and well, even the ones in the trash end up back out in nature. Some are in the ocean and many litter beaches. Sure, the fact that we’re using PPE is great because it’s needed, but we all need to do our part in using reusable masks or disposing of our used masks and things of that nature more properly. Something has to be done.

The Washington Post wrote as follows on this topic:

Several weeks ago, small pops of color began to dot the drab early spring landscape. Like stubborn weeds, the bright blue latex gloves kept appearing on busy sidewalks, in supermarket parking lots, or along roadsides with damp leaves and human debris.

The problem has only worsened as more and more people turn to disposable masks and gloves to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. On Saturday, one Connecticut woman posted a picture of a grassy hill littered with what at first looked like Easter eggs, but on further inspection proved to be dozens of discarded rubber gloves in colorful teal and buttercup-yellow hues. Similar scenes are playing out everywhere from Sacramento to Southampton, N.Y., potentially threatening wildlife and putting essential workers at risk.

“I have plenty of trash cans,” Steve Melton, a groundskeeper in Grand Rapids, Mich., told WZZM. “But, they throw their gloves, their masks, everything that they are done with, down in my parking lot.”

As suiting up in protective gear for a rare trip outdoors becomes mainstream or even mandatory, jettisoned masks and gloves have become a common sight in hospital parking garages, abandoned grocery carts, and even on scenic nature trails. The problem, of course, is that underpaid and overworked sanitation and grocery workers are inevitably the ones to pick them up.

“These stores are already taxed with being busy, and now they have to have staff diverted to cleaning the parking lots to make sure they’re clean and sanitary,” Patrick Cheetham, the police captain in Londonderry, N.H., told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “It’s creating more work and potentially putting them at risk.”

While the coronavirus is believed to primarily spread through human-to-human contact, a growing body of evidence suggests that contaminated particles can linger on surfaces for hours or even days. That means there’s a small but not inconsiderable chance that someone who picks up a discarded mask could get infected. Begging people not to toss their used protective gear onto the sidewalk, the Boston Public Works Department recently posted pictures of masked and gloved workers stooping over to gingerly scrape the detritus off the street.

We all need to be aware of this growing issue. While it might not be something everyone is noticing, it is something that we all need to figure out ways to cut back on and prevent from getting worse. Masks and gloves are important, but we also need to be more careful about how we dispose of them.

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