The PPE Problem
March 11, 2021
Zoë Trisha Prinsloo cares about the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa. She leads cleanups there. She has a group called Save a Fishie! It has picked up plastic bottles, straws, and more.
Lately, Prinsloo has noticed more of one kind of waste: PPE. That stands for “personal protective equipment.” Face masks and gloves are two types of PPE. At a cleanup last year, Prinsloo saw eight different kinds of gloves. “I find masks more and more regularly too,” she told TIME for Kids.
Lots of people wear PPE. It helps protect against COVID-19. But when PPE isn’t thrown out the right way, it pollutes the environment. It harms wildlife. This is a growing problem. Many people want to fix it.
A Pollution Solution
At least 8 million tons of plastic enter oceans each year. That’s according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In September 2020, the Ocean Conservancy held an International Coastal Cleanup. Tens of thousands of PPE items were found. George Leonard is the group’s chief scientist. He spoke to CNN. “PPE waste is a significant threat to oceans,” he said.
PPE waste can hurt ocean animals. They can eat it or get tangled in it. Other wildlife is at risk too. Sue Schwar manages South Essex Wildlife Hospital. It’s in the United Kingdom. Her team rescued a seagull. “The loops of a face mask were bound around its legs,” she says. Thankfully, the staff was able to untangle the bird. It healed. They set it free and watched it fly away.
How To Help
You can help solve the PPE problem. Wear clean reusable masks. Snip the straps before throwing any mask away. This will protect animals. They won’t get tangled up. Put used PPE in a garbage can with a secure lid. This is important when the can is outside. Masks and gloves can be carried away by the wind.