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Used masks and gloves are showing up on beaches and in oceans

Topic: Used masks and gloves are showing up on beaches and in oceans

The pandemic has not only upended millions of lives around the world, it’s now threatening the world’s oceans.

Pandemic-generated waste, such as discarded disposable masks, gloves and wipes are floating into waterways and oceans. The proof is in the waste that’s already washed ashore on beaches in the past several months.

As many as 62,210 PPE items, including single-use masks and gloves were collected during the annual International Coastal Cleanup event last month, according to preliminary data. It’s the world’s largest volunteer effort, held every September, involving participants from dozens of countries who remove and log a sample volume of plastics and marine waste from the ocean and waterways.

This year, 76 countries participated in the clean up and collected at least 1.6 million pounds of trash, including tens of thousands of PPE products.

It was the first time in the 35-year history of the event that PPE was added as a data category, along with cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic straws and bottles, said Dr. George Leonard, chief scientist with Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit working to protect oceans and advance marine conservation.

“We absolutely believe that PPE waste is a significant threat to oceans and marine life,” said Leonard.

At a time when the world’s oceans are already choking on as much as 8 million metric tons of plastic leaked into them annually, Leonard cautions that this latest threat could exacerbate an already tenuous situation. At this rate, the World Economic Forum has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in terms of weight in the world’s oceans.

Leonard said the pandemic has created a two-pronged problem: “There’s enhanced demand and use of single-use plastics like bags and containers by consumers and businesses for groceries and food takeout,” he said.

“Then there’s the global use of disposable masks and gloves. No one would have thought a few months ago that the entire world would be using them,” said Leonard.

The scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology estimates that globally 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion throwaway gloves are being used every month through the pandemic.

Topic Discussed: Used masks and gloves are showing up on beaches and in oceans