Correctly dispose of PPE to stop new wave of plastic pollution

Date posted: 24 July 2020

As of today, in England, face coverings will be required by law while in shops and supermarkets. The rules vary across the UK alongside when using public transport. As more countries urge the public to use these while out and about, it’s important to highlight the need for them to be appropriately disposed of.

PPE
© Catherine Gemmell

It’s so important to remember that just like plastic bottles, coffee cups and ​wrappers, PPE items like masks and gloves are single-use plastics and can have a dangerous impact on marine life and the ocean.

Catherine Gemmell,
MCS Scotland Conservation Officer

At this year’s Great British Beach Clean (running from 18 - 25 September) we’ll be asking volunteers to record the PPE they find on the UK’s beaches; as with all the data gathered at the Great British Beach Clean, we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of the extent of the issue of PPE litter and consider ways in which the potential damage to the environment and marine life can be limited.

On a recent visit to ​Portobello beach in Edinburgh, Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer, was shocked to see so much PPE litter already building up by the sea: “Having seen people’s accounts of spotting face masks and plastic gloves in their local areas, by the sea and even underwater, I was expecting to see some PPE litter at my local beach. However, I wasn’t expecting the volume that I found there. It’s so important to remember that just like plastic bottles, coffee cups and ​wrappers, PPE items like masks and gloves are single-use plastics and can have a dangerous impact on marine life and the ocean. Please remember to properly dispose of your PPE or if appropriate invest in some reusable masks or make your own!”

Motivated to bring awareness to the detrimental impact of disposable face masks on the environment when not disposed of correctly, designers Charlotte and Holly decided to create some striking visuals to really highlight the problem. The oceans are facing a different pandemic draws attention to the surge of face masks entering the ocean and putting marine life at risk.

Mask

Charlotte said of the designs: “I was so shocked to see such a huge amount of face masks found underwater since the pandemic began. Throughout lockdown it felt that we all had a greater appreciation for the natural world, celebrating rivers running clear and wildlife returning. It’s such a shame to see this all being undone by face masks, discarded without consideration, affecting the ocean. Single-use plastic pollution still plagues our seas, we cannot be adding another form of plastic to the problem.”

Face coverings are a fantastic tool in the global fight against coronavirus, which is predominantly spread by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. When used correctly, covering both the nose and mouth, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread, helping to protect others. However, please note that if you are showing symptoms of coronavirus, you should follow up to date medical advice and isolate at home. You can find more information here.

If you’d like to have a go at a DIY face mask, you can find a guide here.

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