In the first six months of the pandemic, more than 107,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) were found on beaches and waterways around the world, according to a new report from the California-based nonprofit Ocean Conservancy.
“I mean the real top scope of mind message here is that we’re finding masks and gloves everywhere, around the world," George Leonard, chief scientist at Ocean Conservancy, said. "We’re finding them around a variety of states in the United States and a variety of countries around the world as well. 70 out of 115 participating countries have had documented PPE in the marine environment.”
Every September, volunteers around the world clean up beaches and measure the trash that’s picked up. In addition to the count this year, Ocean Conservancy surveyed volunteers on what they found.
“Basically every volunteer and coordinator - 94% - that were surveyed actually found PPE at these cleanups," Leonard said. "And almost half of them sound five or more items at any particular clean up, so it’s not just a case of one individual random item here or there. They're showing up in some density.”
In addition to the added volume of plastic pollution, there are concerns on its composition compared to other plastic waste like bottles, bags and straws.
“PPE on the other hand is is quite different because it's not like the consumer materials like plastic bags and bottles and straws and cups that you're planning on [finding at] the beach," Leonard said. "It's from an entirely different use in its own right which is about protecting people from a from the risk of virus transmission. So it's both similar and quite different from what we normally see out there.”
Ocean Conservancy has recommendations to reduce PPE pollution, including wearing reusable PPE like cloth masks and to properly dispose of used masks and gloves.