Unfortunately, it’s a widespread problem in states across the country and countries across the world, where potentially dangerous discarded gloves and masks are a depressing side effect of the outbreak.
Even if you think it’s fine to toss a burger wrapper or soda can on the ground under normal circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how you could think of spreading a biohazard in the same way. After all, if they did their job before being discarded, used PPE is likely covered in the novel coronavirus that can live on surfaces for days.
“With such behaviors, where is our dignity? Where is our respect? Civic sense?” Ball State professor of health science Jagdish Khubchandani told HuffPost. “We tend to judge everyone and cry about human rights: Where are these rights when we throw masks and gloves that can infect others? We cannot be safe by putting others in danger.”
New, disgusting trend: people leaving used gloves in the parking lot at the grocery store. pic.twitter.com/DHFALoyWzc
— Christopher Heath (@CHeathWFTV) April 6, 2020
Bin crews are out there collecting recycling & keeping us safe from rubbish piling up. But they keep finding used tissues, masks & disposable gloves thrown on the ground. Put these in a bin! Let's not risk infecting the people who have to clean these up #FrontLineHeroes #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/tqkdgbSz2p
— London Recycles (@LondonRecycles) April 6, 2020
The people who are left to pick up this trash are grocery store employees, sanitation workers, and other essential workers currently putting their own health at risk to keep society functioning.
“If we keep doing this, we could end up infecting our frontline and essential workers and personnel,” Khubchandani said. “Not to mention overburdening waste management workers and city health departments who are already stretched for resources.”
In other words, this kind of littering could be a potentially disastrous problem. And that’s without considering what happens to the waste that doesn’t get picked up.
Used masks and gloves are neither recyclable nor biodegradable, which means that when littered they can end up in storm drains and bodies of water, where wildlife can mistake them for food.
(Photos: Naomi Brannan) 📷 pic.twitter.com/a6VwrE5OPl
— OceansAsia (@oceansasia1) March 1, 2020
Some municipalities are fighting pack with increased penalties for those caught littering. In Yorktown, NY, for instance, the fine was recently doubled to $1,000 for the first offense. Here’s hoping that measures like that and pure public shaming are enough to keep public spaces clean and essential workers safe.