As a winter approaches that’s likely to be dominated by concerns about coronavirus Monmouthshire County Council has appealed to members of the public to remember to dispose of used masks and gloves carefully, and not to litter them.  Single use medical grade masks and blue hygiene gloves are being seen increasingly frequently on roadsides, in parks, supermarket car parks and even out in the middle of the countryside.  Before the advent of COVID-19 these items would be seen primarily in medical settings such as hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and dental practices, where staff are trained to be aware of the need to dispose of PPE properly to prevent contamination and spreading infection and disease.

Between the end of February and mid-April 2020 it’s estimated that more than one billion items of PPE were given out in the UK. Even if only a small proportion of this total end up being littered it would still cause a big environmental problem, because PPE masks and gloves are non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. They are also a threat to the health of council cleansing staff or volunteers who pick them up in the course of their activities to keep Monmouthshire tidy.  The World Health Organisation warns that appropriate disposal of PPE is essential to avoid an increase in transmission of COVID-19.

“There is no excuse for littering face masks or gloves. It’s so important that people take care of one another and dispose of PPE responsibly to help prevent the spread of coronavirus,” said Councillor Jane Pratt, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Waste and Recycling.

It’s not necessary for most members of the public to wear medical grade single use face masks, but for those that do, it is advised to carry a bag to put your disposable mask and gloves in so that they are ready to put with household ‘black bag’ waste when you get home. For most people, re-usable, washable fabric face masks or coverings are a much better and cheaper option, plus you get to express your personality, whether that’s floral chic or serious black.  These are widely available, but if you’re handy with a sewing machine it’s quick and easy to make your own – there are plenty of YouTube tutorials available to help you.  While latex gloves are incredibly important in a clinical setting, the World Health Organisation says that regular hand washing is actually the best and most hygienic approach for people who are not working in a medical setting.  If you cannot wash your hands regularly, carry a bottle of alcohol based hand sanitiser with you.