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Poor disposal of masks and gloves poses deeper health risks

File photo: Getty Images.

SALT LAKE CITY — Our hygiene skills have increased in the days of COVID-19, but our trash etiquette has taken a dive. Like yellow spots on a lawn, the disposal of masks and gloves on the streets and sidewalks has become a disturbing norm.

Masks and gloves litter the streets and our water

As more Americans don protective masks and gloves, more of those masks and gloves are ending up on our streets and sidewalks.

This is because, once individuals are done with them, the masks and gloves are discarded inappropriately.

Once on the street, the plastics will decompose into microplastics that can end up in the water we drink as well as water that is home to animals.

Masks and gloves as a health risk to others

Along with the problem of pollution, masks and gloves that are improperly disposed of can also put other people at risk.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that ends up as litter is hazardous because it can potentially spread COVID-19 coronavirus.  Though the virus spreads more easily through human-to-human contact, it can live on certain surfaces for days.

Improperly discarded PPE has been found in the parking lots of grocery stores, convenience stores, hospitals, and even the trailheads of scenic nature walks.

The problem then becomes, who is picking it up?  Most likely it is a grocery store worker or sanitation worker.  Whoever is tasked with picking up the garbage, PPE litter creates more work for a staff who already has more on their plate ensuring the store and the parking lot are safe for customers.

Mask and glove disposal

The other problem encountered with PPE these days, is wish-cycling. Meaning, some people want to recycle their PPE.

Though they are plastic, masks and gloves are not recyclable.

Waste Management magazine recommends that you follow the CDC guidelines for the glove removal process. When you have safely removed them from your hands, put them in the trash.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has this advice for the safe placement and removal of masks.  Once done with the mask, the WHO recommends that you “discard immediately in a closed bin.”

Masks, like gloves, are not recyclable.


Coronavirus resources

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirusis transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

UtahState Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States