Coronavirus Trash: Face Masks, Plastic Gloves Discarded on Streets

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Face masks and plastic gloves have become must-have items when people go out in public during the coronavirus pandemic, but after being used, some of that personal protective equipment is being dumped on the streets.

Environmentalists worry the possibly contaminated plastic, cloth and latex will end up in waterways at a time when there are fewer volunteers to help keep the water clean.

At a Safeway parking lot in Oakland, used latex and plastic gloves are getting discarded right and left. 

“They just drop it anywhere,” Cynthia Herrera of Oakland said.

At Lake Merritt, some gloves are floating in the water.

“They do not degrade,” Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of the nonprofit environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper, said. “Plastic gloves don’t degrade.”

Choksi-Chugh worries the coronavirus-related litter will end up washing into the San Francisco Bay.

“That’s why you have a lot of wildlife like whales and dolphins, porpoises, seals washing up with bellies full of plastic,” she said.

Another concern centers around contamination. The discarded masks, gloves and wipes could be contaminated and could thus pose a threat to anyone who picks them up.

“I think there is a little bit of a hesitation right now to pick up trash because people do think about what may be contaminating it at this point,” Choksi-Chugh said.

The stay-at-home order has forced Baykeeper to cancel all of its coastal cleanup events. Typically, volunteers pull out hundreds of pounds of trash from the Bay during the cleanups.

“It’s really too bad that our volunteers can’t get out right now,” Choksi-Chugh said. “We’re just encouraging people to try to do their part from home.”

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