129 billion single-use face masks are put into the environment every month

Recently a BBC video highlighted an upsetting environmental consequence of the global pandemic  - the issue of PPE in our oceans.

PPE on our shores

The video claims that, due to Covid-19 and the measures we have taken to protect ourselves, we are now putting 129 billion face masks into the environment every month! Unfortunately, many of these are finding their way into our oceans and washing up on beaches.

During the recent pandemic, all of us have been extremely aware of how important PPE is in our work, health, retail and social environments and, as a result, the production and use of disposable face masks and gloves across the world has risen dramatically. Although there is major evidence that use of this equipment has been vital in saving lives and protecting all of us from coronavirus, there is now a much greater likelihood of single-use items of this type contributing to environmental pollution.

Disposal of PPE

In the UK clear guidelines have been issued regarding the disposal of PPE and it has been reiterated many times that disposing of these items in a bin and double bagging them is vital. However, this isn't the case across the globe and inevitably here, and overseas, this guidance isn't always followed.

As the usage of items such as face masks increase across the board, there have been stark warnings about the importance of changing and replacing them regularly. Naturally this increases the need to dispose of the used versions more regularly and, perhaps unsurprising, PPE has now become a litter item that is increasingly being tossed into streets and the countryside after use.

PPE the new litter threat

As we are all now well aware, littering is one of the biggest causes of plastic pollution in our oceans. It may be a long process, but disregarded items that are not placed in designated bins are often blown into our waterways and this is the start of their long journey into our seas. The damage they can cause to eco-systems and wildlife has been well-documented over recent years, however the added danger of 'PPE litter' is extremely worrying and is expertly communicated in this BBC video

At Cawleys, we advise and adhere to a strict policy when it comes to disposing of PPE, and whether our clients prefer to collect used masks, gloves and gowns separately, or as part of general waste, once it's back at our depots we ensure it is destroyed in a sustainable manner. Our full policy explaining how to deal with PPE can be downloaded here.

Converting waste to RDF

Once we have collected our client's waste, our focus is, and always has been, to recover as many items for recycling as possible from ALL of the waste we collect, and whilst COVID has meant that PPE items can't be recycled in traditional ways, due to health risks, it doesn't mean that the used items will go to waste. Instead of allowing masks and the likes to drift into waterways or clog up landfill, here at Cawleys we bale it up with the other non-recoverable items to be sent to specialist energy plants to be burnt and converted into RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel). This ensures the best and safest possible use for the increasing volume of single-use PPE and we urge all of us who now use and wear these items to ALWAYS ensure it is firmly secured in an appropriate waste bin. Ultimately this is the only way to ensure our whales, and indeed, our whole environment does't face an extra challenge from this new and potentially more threatening waste stream.

Comments are closed.