Pandemic Brings New Kind of Litter

Gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment started accumulating in early 2020 on Kaua‘i shorelines, as well as places around the world. Surfrider Foundation’s local Hawai‘i chapters have joined the nationwide organization in a campaign to bring awareness to the fact that discarded PPE is adding to the plastic pollution on the world’s shorelines.

Federal and state governments are advising citizens to wear masks in public, and as people endeavor to protect themselves against the COVID-19 coronavirus, many aren’t properly disposing of PPE. Once in coastal ecosystems, PPE can be mistaken as food by seabirds, turtles and marine mammals, putting them at risk of severe injuries and death, Surfrider said in a Thursday news release. These items may be carrying viruses and pathogens that could potentially spread infection.

On Kaua‘i Carl Berg of the Kaua‘i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation said he and other volunteers are finding evidence of PPE litter on shorelines, as has been reported elsewhere.

“It is really easy to find lots of gloves and wipes at our Home Depot, Safeway, Costco etc. as people wipe the carts handles then drop the wipe,” Berg said. “They also drop the gloves when they finish loading the cars. As we go back to the beaches we will find more.”

He continued: “Millions of pounds of plastic pollution wash ashore Hawai‘i beaches each year. This campaign is aimed at reducing the environmental and public health impacts of improperly discarded PPE.”

The main meat of the campaign is to educate the public on Centers for Disease Control guidelines of how to properly dispose of PPE, with a heavy emphasis on choosing and cleaning reusuable PPE equipment, like cloth masks.

“Proper disposal of single-use PPE and making the switch to reusable items can aid in solving the ever-rising plastic pollution issue. Littering PPE and any other items is illegal and considered a criminal offense,” Surfrider said in their Thursday news release.

Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Chapters suggests using reusable cloth masks and continuing to use (and wash) reusable shopping bags when permitted by shopping establishments. Sanitizing of reusable masks and bags should follow CDC guidelines. Surfrider Foundation Hawaii also notes that PPE, including sanitizing wipes, should never be flushed down the drain.

Anyone who want to be part of the awareness campaign and help spread the message of responsible PPE disposal and use can join by posting photos of any PPE debris spotted along waterways and beaches and tag #HawaiiPPEdebris to help spread awareness.

Written for and published by The Garden Island Newspaper, May 8, 2020. Photos courtesy of Carl Berg, Surfrider Foundation Kauai.

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