A Global Pandemic Means Littered Disposable Gloves—Everywhere
The outbreak of the coronavirus has meant littered medical supplies waste in parking lots, on sidewalks and most other public spaces. It is one of the many unintended byproducts of the pandemic.
- By Amanda Smiley
- Apr 06, 2020
A Chicago Tribune article explores a topic of the coronavirus we do not often hear about: the sheer amount of waste, and littered trash, that has come out of this pandemic.
Parking lots, neighborhood streets, sidewalks, parks and curbs show the signs of a pandemic and remind us that not everyone knows how to pick up after themselves. In fact, a huge number of people do not.
The Chicago Tribune piece explores the story of a man named Bob who spends most of his time social distancing at home. However, during one of his occasional essential errands to the grocery store, he noticed three disposable gloves of different types in three different locations on his bike ride to the store.
The author of the Chicago Tribune admits that a story about humans’ gross tendency to litter was not worth an article. But he thought again, thinking that in fact, many humans do need to be reminded not to litter, to pick up after themselves and to be responsible—especially in a global health crisis.
Bob is not the only person who has noticed the forgotten mementos of the current crisis we are living in: the disposable gloves, the face masks, the Clorox wipes that all miss the trash cans, or never made it to them to begin with. An article in the Miami New Times shares the same stories of parking lots full of littered gloves, masks and sanitizing wipes.
The Town of Miami Lakes Twitter account posted an announcement about the problem, and encouraged people to dispose of the items properly for everyone’s safety:
Other people have taken to social media to raise concern, too. Maude-Laure Audet, a resident of the North Shore neighborhood in Miami Beach, has been photographing the discarded gloves she encounters on her daily “sanity walks.” So far, she has posted over two dozen images in an Instagram highlight on her personal page and started a separate page called @_one.glove, where she plans to continue posting photos of the litter she sees around her neighborhood.
“It's just getting frustrating, so I thought, How can I make people more aware of this?” Audet said. “It's great that we're protecting ourselves. We have to also realize there's a community to take care of.”
Clean This Beach Up, a Miami Beach-based environmental group, also launched a social media campaign to keep track of inappropriately discarded gloves. The challenge invites people to take pictures of the medical supply waste they see around their communities, tag @cleanthisbeachup on Instagram stories or posts, and use the hashtag #TheGloveChallenge. Mariajose Algarra, the group’s founder, says she has received more than 667 photos since starting the campaign almost two weeks ago.
The fact of the matter is: this is not just a reminder to care for the earth and the animals that it share it with us, but it’s also a reminder that discarded equipment like this in the street is a biohazard. Yes, a biohazard.
These discarded gloves and masks and wipes are all the barriers between humans and germs, which means that every discarded item could have someone’s germs on them—including the coronavirus we are all trying to avoid. The discarding of these items on streets, parking lots, lawns and parks is really pathetic—and dangerous.
“These gloves protect the wearer but not someone who touches or gets touched by them,” Bob wrote. “There were many…children walking and we all know how children like to pick things up,” often putting such things in their mouth.
Littered medical supplies waste is not just a hazard to other humans and the surrounding environment. Trash and litter get swept into runoff, ponds, rivers and oceans. Litter on land almost always means litter in water sources—which, of course, is a hazard to humans, animals and ecosystems.
But there’s more. According to one local news outlet in Philadelphia, littered medical supplies waste is even clogging sewer lines—yet another unanticipated byproduct of the pandemic. One township posted online that it is experiencing sanitary sewer back-ups due to the excessive use of disinfectant wipes. “These items do not disintegrate in the sewer system. We remind all residents to dispose these items in the normal trash stream,” said the township’s Facebook post. Unlike toilet paper, items like paper towels, latex gloves, sanitation wipes and masks do not disintegrate in sewer systems.
While littering your gloves is a sign of laziness, it is also a sign of selfishness, one person noted. It’s an example of being so concerned with yourself that you do not consider how you might be putting others at risk. “The people tossing masks and gloves on the ground are the same who hoarded all the (toilet paper) and cleaning necessities,” said a member of a social media group talking about the littering problem.
While there are no current, nationwide efforts to help American recycle their medical supplies and potentially contaminated materials, there is a common understanding that when you wear gloves or a mask, you need to dispose of them properly when you are done with them.
However, a couple of groups and organizations are making it easy to recycle and properly reusing latex gloves. Read the article by Green Matters to see which organizations are making it easy, and what you need to do.
The question of where all the disposed medical supplies waste will go is concerning—and enough content for a whole other article. Many city officials, environmentalists and waste systems know that a massive increase in plastic products, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and disposable masks will mean problems down the road.
It all boils down to common courtesy, said the Chicago Tribune. Even the smallest of gestures can mean the difference between life and death.
Amanda Smiley is the Content Editor for Occupational Health Magazine and Environmental Protection for 1105 Media. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.