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Study shows environmental impact of non-reusable PPE
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Study shows environmental impact of non-reusable PPE

A close-up of a discarded used medical face mask drifting underwater in the Adriatic Sea

A close-up of a discarded used medical face mask drifting underwater in the Adriatic SeaPin it!
In the first half of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 2 million PPE items littered in 11 countries were collected. Image credit: Andrey Negrasiov/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), which is an essential part in efforts to reduce the spread SARS-CoV-2 among healthcare professionals and prevent COVID-19 among the general public, has been an important part of efforts.
  • The rise in use of PPE during COVID-19 has led to the increase of PPE litter, such gloves, masks and wipes.
  • New research has shown that the number of masks ending up as litter in 11 countries was 84 times higher than pre-pandemic levels.
  • Researchers emphasize that governments and individuals need to consider the environmental effects of PPE while maintaining public safety.

All walks of life have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments, individuals, and organizations have tried to adapt to the situation to reduce the risk of infection. Protective equipment (PPE) is a particular focus. This includes gloves and face masks.

People can reduce their chances of serious illness and injury by using PPE correctly. It is important to also consider the impact of PPE on the environment.

A recent StudyIn the journal Nature Sustainability It was found that litter made from masks, gloves and wipes has increased in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study recommends that policies relating to pandemics include measures to manage PPE waste. This will help to reduce the negative environmental impact of mismanagement of PPE.

The Occupational Safety and Health AdministrationPPE can help to prevent illness and injury. Different types of PPE will be used depending on the protection needed.

The Food and Drug AdministrationIt regulates how PPE manufacturers make it to ensure it works correctly. PPE can help to prevent infectious substances from getting on the skin, eyes, nose, and skin of a person. PPE can be used correctly to reduce the risk of spreading illness from one person or another.

PPE can be used in the following ways:

  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Face shields
  • Goggles
  • Protective clothing such as gowns

The Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThe current recommendation is that healthcare professionals treating COVID-19 patients use N-95 masks, gowns and eye protection, such as face shields or goggles.

The CDC has some general recommendations for mask use. It recommends that everyone over 2 years old wear masks indoors.

Although the CDC’s primary focus is on vaccination, it still encourages mask-wearing. In a recent example Facebook postThe CDC discusses a study that proves vaccine effectiveness. The agency supports the following:

Protect yourself and others by being fully vaccinated. Get your booster dose as recommended. Also, take the recommended preventive steps such as wearing masks and physical distancing indoor public places where spread is substantial or high.

Similar recommendations have been made by other countries regarding masks during the pandemic.

Researchers from the study examined the effects of litter on recommendations and announcements by the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the policies and legislation that were adopted in 11 countries.

Researchers gathered data from France and Germany, Belgium, Netherlands (Spain), Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States about litter levels from September 2019 to October 2020.

To collect their data, they used the Litterati app, specifically to measure the litter level from masks, gloves and wipes.

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in January 2020. Researchers observed an increase of litter related to all types PPE.

The amount of gloves-related waste showed an initial spike, then a decline to approximately double the pre-pandemic levels.

From March to August, there was a gradual rise in litter from wipes. The litter from wipes decreased to approximately twice the levels pre-pandemic.

The main focus of the study was the increase in litter caused by face masks. The litter created by masks increased 84-fold compared to prepandemic levels.

Before the pandemic there was almost no litter involving masks.

Study author Dr. Keiron P. RobertsThis is how it works Medical News Today:

We have reported on the 11 countries we studied between September 2019 and October 2020. [an over]80-fold increase in the amount of masks as litter. This is an almost [8,400%] increase.

Researchers were then able examine the adoption of COVID-19 policies in different countries to see how they correlated with increases in PPE litter.

The Oxford University Coronavirus government response tracker was one resource. They focused on countries’ policies regarding mask-wearing and travel restrictions associated with lockdowns.

After the introduction of legislation on masks, they found that litter from masks had increased in number.

We observed a significant rise in mask litter where there was mask legislation. The report supports the anecdotal accounts which we saw all too often last season and provides some justification for why these items started to be more visible, Dr. Roberts explained to MNT.

Overall, the study shows that PPE can have an adverse effect on the environment, infrastructure, people, and the economy, especially if it is not properly disposed of.

This could have the following consequences:

  • Littering PPE could spread SARS-2 to others very quickly after being removed
  • It can clog sewer systems and pollute streams and rivers.
  • It can be a choking hazard for animals or an entanglement problem.
  • It can spread pathogens or pollution.

Researchers acknowledge that there is a risk of observational bias and other errors in their study, such as the absence of a standard way to collect litter items. Their findings show an overall increase in litter due to COVID-19 use and PPE.

The study shows that mask use will likely continue. However, there will be an increased risk of mask litter.

Researchers encourage you to adopt policies and practices that reduce litter from PPE.

Agencies and governments can encourage reuse wherever possible and provide proper disposal bins for areas where single-use masks may be required.

Dr. Roberts gave the following advice:

Moving forward, and given tightening restrictions on mask requirements around the world, it is important to ensure that masks continue to be used and prevent them becoming litter. This is both a public and government responsibility. Governments can provide strong messaging and education about disposing of masks and other items as well as support businesses to help patrons and customers bin their masks after they are used. [they will essentially help]To provide the right facilities at the right place for the right thing.

Dr. Roberts concluded that it was up to people to make smart choices and not litter.

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