Study reveals the impact of non-reusable PPE on the environment
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been a critical part of efforts to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and prevent COVID-19 among healthcare professionals and the general public.
- The increased use of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in waste of PPE, such as masks, gloves and wipes.
- New research has found that in 11 countries studied, the number of masks that ended up as litter increased 84-fold from pre-pandemic levels.
- The researchers stress that individuals and governments must consider the environmental impacts of using PPE while ensuring public safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all walks of life. People, organizations, and governments have tried to adapt their behavior to stay safe and minimize the risk of infection. One area of ââparticular interest has been protection – most often through the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves.
When people use PPE correctly, it can reduce their risk of serious illness or injury. However, it is also essential to consider the impact of PPE on the environment.
The study recommends that pandemic-related policies incorporate PPE waste management measures. This can help reduce the negative environmental impacts of poor management of PPE.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that PPE can help prevent illness and injury. People will use different types of PPE depending on the situation and the need for protection.
Examples of PPE are:
- face shields
- protective glasses
- protective clothing, such as gowns
The CDC also has general recommendations related to the use of masks by the general public. Currently, he recommends that all people over 2 years old wear masks in indoor public spaces.
Although the CDC focuses primarily on immunization, it still encourages activities such as wearing a mask. For example, in a recent Facebook post, the CDC discusses a study demonstrating the effectiveness of a vaccine. The agency recommends:
“Protect yourself and your community by getting yourself fully immunized, receiving your booster dose when recommended, and taking recommended preventive measures (such as wearing masks or physical distancing in indoor public places where the spread is occurring). high or large). “
Other countries have developed similar recommendations for masks throughout the pandemic.
Researchers in the study looked at changes in waste levels relating to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and announcements and policies and legislation adopted by 11 countries.
The researchers collected data from France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on levels of litter from September 2019 to October 2020.
They used the âLitteratiâ app to collect their data, specifically measuring the level of waste from masks, gloves and wipes.
Since the WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic on January 30, 2020, researchers have observed an increase in waste associated with all types of PPE.
The amount of glove-related waste recorded an initial peak, then declined to about double pre-pandemic levels.
There was also a gradual increase in waste from wipes from March to August. The amount then declined to about double the pre-pandemic levels.
The main point of interest was the increase in waste from face masks. Waste from masks has increased 84 times over pre-pandemic levels.
Before the pandemic, there was virtually no litter related to masks.
Study author Dr Keiron P. Roberts explained to Medical News Today:
âFor the 11 countries studied from September 2019 to October 2020, we reported [an over] 80-fold increase in the proportion of masks in the waste collected. It almost represents [8,400%] to augment.”
The researchers were then able to examine the adoption of specific COVID-19 policies in different countries and how those policies correlated with the increase in PPE waste.
One of the resources was the follow-up to the government response to the coronavirus from the University of Oxford. They specifically looked at countries’ policies regarding mask wearing and travel restrictions related to blockages.
They found that mask waste increased after the introduction of mask legislation.
âWhere mask legislation was present, we observed a significant increase in the proportion of mask waste. The report helps substantiate the anecdotal accounts we have seen too often over the past year and explains why these elements have started to be more visible, âDr Roberts told MNT.
Overall, the study provides evidence that the use of PPE can have an impact on the environment, infrastructure and people, especially when people do not dispose of used PPE properly.
This could lead to the following consequences:
- Littered PPE could spread SARS-CoV-2 to others soon after removal
- it can clog sewage systems and pollute areas, such as streams and rivers
- it can be a choking hazard or entanglement problem for animals
- it can help spread pathogens and pollution
The researchers recognize that their study risks observation bias and other possible errors, such as the lack of a standard method for collecting the waste. But their results show an overall increase in waste linked to the use of COVID-19 and PPE.
As mask use will likely continue, the risk of mask waste will remain, according to the study.
For this reason, researchers encourage the adoption of policies and behaviors that can help reduce waste from PPE.
For example, agencies and governments can encourage reusable items where possible and provide appropriate trash cans in areas where single-use masks are required.
Dr Roberts made the following recommendation:
âGoing forward, and in light of tightening mask restrictions and requirements around the world, we must ensure the continued use of masks while preventing them from becoming litter. This is a dual responsibility of governments and the public. With governments providing strong messages and education on the disposal of masks and other items, as well as support for businesses to help customers and clients dispose of their masks after use, [they will essentially help] providing the facilities in the right place to do the right thing.
However, Dr Roberts ultimately noted that the onus lies with people who make smart choices and choose not to throw litter.