The past few years have brought a new level of disease awareness to people all around the world. The three rules we hear most are “Wear a mask, wash your hands, and wear gloves.” A newly intense demand for bodily protection has taken the world by storm, and most of us have become familiar with collecting personal protective equipment (PPE)—however, many are still ill-informed about proper PPE disposal procedures when they need to replace their gear.
Managing PPE waste disposal is a growing challenge for communities across the globe, and it’s unfortunately common to find masks and disposable gloves on the ground or in bodies of water. We’d like to take steps to improve the PPE waste problem by discussing the ins and outs of PPE and how to dispose of it without harming the environment.
What Is PPE?
“PPE,” or “personal protective equipment,” is a general term for clothing designed specifically to keep pathogens and dangerous materials out of your body. Most common forms of PPE protect the nose, mouth, and skin, particularly on the hands and face.
The use of disposable gloves for infection control is one of the most common examples of PPE in action, but other pieces of clothing like headwear, hospital gowns, shoe covers, and face coverings are common articles of PPE as well. Gloves and face masks, which we see almost every day, are some of the most effective and consistent preventers of diseases, which explains their skyrocketing popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PPE Waste Problem
Clearly, litter and environmental damage were only made worse by the pandemic. Every year, Americans use around 10 billion latex gloves. If you are walking down a busy street, chances are you have seen at least three discarded disposable masks before you hit the first stoplight. With so many people instantly having to adapt to mask mandates across the world, it’s not surprising that most of them aren’t familiar with the PPE disposal procedures recommended by professionals.
Improperly discarded materials can wash up on beaches, affect the water supply, and join the millions of tons of plastic polluting our oceans today. Experts are concerned about this new influx of dangerous litter and are sure to be tracking its negative effects on our planet for years to come.
PPE Waste Management Solutions
So, what can we do to properly dispose of these safety products? It can be easy to assume that such a thin product like a cloth mask will be biodegradable and just break down over time, but this is absolutely not true. Plastics stay in our earth for several hundred years.
You will be happy to hear that the answer is easy for individuals: simply throw out your old PPE in a trash can. If you are in a rural area and have to burn your trash, add your single-use gloves and masks to the fire. Whatever way you dispose of your garbage is fine for single-use PPE, but most professionals recommend bagging it for dumpsters to prevent the potential spread of illnesses as a form of a safer and more proper PPE waste management system.
Businesses with large amounts of single-use PPE waste are advised to package up their used products and send them to companies such as Terracycle as their PPE disposal procedure. These large organizations melt down these products for recycling purposes, thus eliminating the waste and fumes that would otherwise affect the local environment. The process often involves adding a zero waste container to your establishment and sending it to the PPE waste management company once the box is full.All-in-all, the little steps we take to clean up after Covid can make a monumental impact on our environment. Be sure to follow the recommended PPE disposal guidelines and keep our planet’s water supply safe from years of litter.