Coronavirus PPE pollution: Can we stop the mounting plastic pandemic?

 (Surfers Against Sewage)
(Surfers Against Sewage)

As coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe, swathes of PPE and other single-use plastic items are entering our natural environment.

The influx of gloves, disposable masks and extra food packaging is already causing harm to wildlife in the UK, according to the RSPCA.

“Since March we’ve had to rescue over 900 animals - it’s particularly birds who are getting their feet caught up in the elastic bit of disposable masks. They can’t move or get away” says Klare Kennett, from the animal charity.

Divers and observers are also spotting PPE floating in water systems, and washing up on shorelines around the nation.

‘We are seeing a new type of plastic pollution appearing on our beaches right around the country, from Cornwall to Scotland” says Hugo Tagholm, Chief Officer of the marine NGO Surfers Against Sewage.

These reports are a concern, given that the UK is expecting an extra 66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste from face coverings alone in 2020, according to the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub.

“Covid is clearly an imminent threat, but we shouldn’t be overusing plastic” warns Professor Erik Van Sebille, an Oceanographer from Utrecht University.

“It feels like we have slipped six, seven, even 10 years back in time when it comes to reusing and recycling due to the pandemic” he adds.

To mitigate the harmful impacts of plastic pollution, the RSPCA are now calling on the public to ‘snip the straps’ off their disposable masks after use. The organisation hopes the campaign will stop unnecessary harm if masks do make their way into the natural environment.

Surfers Against Sewage, on the other hand, is calling for the government to ban disposable face coverings altogether in day-to-day settings.

“Disposable masks have a place in medical care, but not in our everyday lives. To go out to the shops or out to cafes, we should be relying on reusables rather than disposables” Mr. Tagholm told The Independent.