Divers and beachgoers are spotting more of this waste floating in the water, causing problems for wildlife and washing up on beaches and shores everywhere around the world.

sign stating must wear masks

The Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 consists of three simple things: washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and wearing a mask. That last recommendation has proven to be anything but simple and has resulted in a lot of confusion as well as a lot of resistance in many places. Since April, some states have had a mandatory order requiring a face mask be worn in public, while many others have not, or have lifted the order.

Because of compelling evidence that wearing a mask can slow the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends everyone do so in public. However, there is no federal mandate. The decision has been left up to individual states and cities to decide whether to require their residents wear a face covering.

Mounds of Unintended Consequences

trash washed up on a beach

While masks keep out bacteria effectively, the same cannot necessarily be said for viruses. Because most masks are made of plastic, liquid-resistant products, they have a long life after they are discarded. They end up in landfills and oceans, or as is happening more and more often, are simply tossed on the ground.

surgical gloves littering a sidewalk

top ten litter items

PPE is the New Litter Threat

You've likely heard the acronym a lot this year, particularly regarding shortages of availability for medical professionals. It stands for personal protective equipment, and is a crucial means of stopping the spread of COVID-19 and keeping our essential frontline doctors, nurses, first responders, and caregivers safe.

The Enormous Toll on Wildlife and Pets

seashore garbage and people picking it up

You may be aware that littering is one of the biggest causes of plastic pollution in our oceans. It can be a lengthy process, but used items not placed in designated trash bins are often blown or carried into our waterways where they begin the long journey to our seas. The damage they can cause to ecosystems, wildlife, and even pets has been well-documented in recent years, and this added danger from PPE litter is extremely disastrous.

surgical mask inside a dog's stomach x-ray

(X-ray of dog's stomach after ingesting a face mask)

seagull with mask tangled on its feet

person holding a seagull with tangled mask

These Marine Animals Are Dying Because of Our Plastic Trash

Like many other marine animals, sea turtles mistake plastic waste for a viable food source, sometimes resulting in a blockage of their digestive system. The same is true for:

Seals and sea lions

Gulls and other birds


Whales and dolphins

dead whale that has swallowed plastic garbage

sea turtle swimming toward floating mask

bird tangled in a mask

What You Can Do to Help

It's everyone's problem and requires everyone's help to make a change. Here are some tips and reminders for managing your waste during and after Covid-19:

Remember to throw masks, wipes, and latex gloves in the trash and not on the street, parking lot, or sidewalk.

Keep personal protective equipment out of the recycling bin.

During this time, many of us are staying home a lot more. You may notice that you and your family are generating more trash than usual. Recycle more often, and recycle correctly. Follow the rules. It could be a matter of life and death.

If someone in your home has COVID-19, your recyclables belong in the trash and should not go to a recycling facility where a worker could contract the virus.

Until it's safe to take items to a drop-off location or have them picked up, set your recyclables aside to dispose of later.

Abide by all local laws and regulations.

Reusable fabric masks have become a fashion statement this year. Wear them instead of disposables.

We're all in this together, and no one is entitled to a free pass.

people wearing colorful masks

Some Good News

Recent discoveries by English scientists show enzymes produced in the stomachs of certain bacteria can be combined to create a super enzyme. This super enzyme reduces the time it takes to break down plastic from weeks to mere hours.

mage Credits: Pixabay, Tim Evans/Twitter (Representational Images)

Image Credits: Pixabay, Tim Evans/Twitter

Image Credits: Pixabay, Tim Evans/Twitter