TAMPA, Fla. - Masks, gloves and other PPE have been essential during this pandemic, but now those same items are littering our streets and ending up in our waterways, doing more harm than good.
“Mainly the masks, some gloves. But mainly the masks seem to be the ones that people are either discarding improperly or just dropping,” said Laura Riiska with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
Keep Tamp Bay Beautiful has done many coastal cleanups over the past few months. The PPE they’ve collected is starting to add up.
“[We’ve collected] about 52 pounds in three months. And these little guys are really light, so that’s a lot of masks,” said Riiska.
Masks were commonly found in areas were mandates are in place or face covering is required. But regardless of where they’re dropped, they still end up at the same final destination.
“We are finding a lot of it in the waterways, especially after a heavy rainfall,” said Riiska. “That is true with any trash. “
Disposable facemasks and gloves often contain plastic, meaning that PPE will live in our waterways for hundreds of years.
“Plastic never really goes away,” said Riiska. “It just becomes smaller and smaller, and it turns into microplastics. When that happens, animals ingest it, it gets into our drinking water, we ingest it.”
Masks may protect us from COVID-19, but it’s up to us to make sure that protection doesn’t turn into a problem.
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