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  • Writer's pictureKaaya Sharma

Disposable masks and gloves: a real threat to our ecosystem

Environment and wildlife around the world are suffering from the impact of disposable protective gear. In particular, the careless disposal of latex gloves and polypropylene masks is advancing the plastic pollution problem and causing wildlife deaths at an alarming rate.

In 2020, a cat in Philadelphia ate a plastic glove and died, a dog in Boston ingested a paper face mask and barely survived, and a robin in Canada fluttered to death after getting its legs tangled in the elastic of a disposable face mask. In addition, OceansAsia, a Hong Kong-based organization, recently published that over 1.5 billion pieces of protective gear entered the ocean in 2020 alone. Even though we are told to wear protective gear constantly, very little information is provided on safely discarding them. Without proper disposal guidance, an environmental crisis is imminent.

What can you do to help?

  1. Use reusable protective gear, if possible. Using reusable gear whenever possible can be a great alternative to disposable masks and gloves. Protective gear made of cloth is often as effective as disposable ones. You can also easily throw the dirty ones in the laundry to disinfect and then use a clean one until the original one dries or the new one gets dirty.

  2. Carry a spare reusable glove or mask at all times. Try always to carry a spare in a backpack, purse, or pocket in case the one you are wearing gets dirty, wet from rain, or lost. This way, you are not forced to buy and wear disposable protective gear when emergencies happen. In addition, replace your wet face masks as soon as possible. According to the CDC, a damp face mask restricts airflow and is less efficient at filtering viral particles. It will be a good idea to carefully place it into a plastic bag until you are able to wash it.

  3. Dispose your protective gear safely in a trash can. When you are ready to remove your protective gear, carefully take it off and toss it into a garbage bin, preferably with a lid. This will help keep the masks and gloves contained in a secure place and away from innocent animals. Never flush your protective gear down the toilet, as it will clog the plumbing.

  4. Try to extend the life of your gloves and masks as much as possible. Although in an ideal world, you want to throw away or wash your protective gear after each use, in reality, it is not practical or sustainable. It is best to change your masks and gloves if you’ve come in direct contact with people or animals, but not necessarily after you just stepped out of your car to get gas, picked up food from a drive-thru, or walked on a beach alone. So think carefully before changing your protective gear and do so only when it is absolutely necessary—both for sanity and environmental sake.

  5. Cut your protective gear before disposing them. If you absolutely need to discard your masks or gloves, be sure to cut them into small pieces and snip the ends of the elastic loops so that wildlife doesn’t get trapped or tangled up in them. Then carefully throw them into a garbage bin, again preferably with a lid.

  6. Whatever you do, consider the environment, oceans, and wildlife and do not litter. This is important. Anywhere you look around the world, you can find disposable gloves and masks in streets and parking lots, usually left behind by people who didn’t care enough to spend the time to discard them correctly. When single-use masks are thrown away incorrectly, they typically end up in oceans, lakes, and rivers, posing a considerable threat to plants, wildlife, and the environment.


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