Personal Protective Equipment is becoming increasingly common in our new normal. Face coverings are now required at many places, and other items like sanitary wipes and gloves are being used frequently, but are quickly becoming the newest form of litter. “As we navigate through these very interesting times with COVID-19, we certainly are seeing different increases in, in particular products,” Merry Rankin, Director of Sustainability at Iowa State University said. “Particularly as you mentioned PPE, obviously there’s a very good reason for us to be consuming those items. We need to consider health and safety first, but there are considerations that can be made related to how we can lower our carbon footprint and our impact.”

According to some estimates, we are using 129 billion face masks across the globe every single month. Many of those are disposable masks as well as gloves and other PPE, and because of that, many environmentalist are sounding the alarm. “In those cases where it is feasible, looking at reusable masks, looking at reusable gloves, can help us reduce that amount of waste,” Rankin said. Rankin says wearing reusable items is best for the environment, but if nothing else, make sure those single-use items are disposed of properly in the trash. They can’t be recycled.

Choosing to think sustainable when out is important, too. Many restaurants are now using more plastic than ever before with disposable menus, single-use condiment packets, and to-go containers. “As we are supporting our favorite local restaurants and taking those takeout meals home, saying ‘no we don’t actually really need to have that single-use serve ware included in that takeout bag. We can use our service ware at home,’” Rankin said. “If you consider a family of four maybe gets takeout three-four times a week. That’s a considerable amount of carbon footprint reduction that we can make just through using our own silverware. So there are a number of smaller things that we can do that really do add up.”

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Author: Whitney Blakemore, WHO13
Image: WHO13