PPE Disposal and Sustainable Options

Published September 01, 2020

With protective measures being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you may have noticed an increase of discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) littering sidewalks, parking lots, and streets. If just 1 in 10 Nebraskans littered one piece of PPE, there would be nearly 200,000 masks or gloves in our environment. Beyond the adverse environmental impacts of this litter, cleaning it up is a public health concern. Don’t let that stop you from picking it up, but review these guidelines from Keep America Beautiful’s report on Litter Cleanup in a COVID-19 Environment for safety information.

The only way to properly dispose of masks and gloves is in the trash. PPE in the recycling stream harms machinery and poses a risk to employees within the facility. Additionally, Keep America Beautiful President and CEO, Helen Lowman, warns that if you or someone in your home has tested positive for COVID-19, do not recycle your recyclables; place them in a bag that is securely closed and discard them in your trash container.

As opposed to single use, disposable masks, a great alternative is a cloth mask that you can wear over and over again. NRC encourages you to purchase sustainably made masks – 14 Sustainable Mask Brands – or to upcycle your own. The CDC has resources on how to make your own mask and how to clean and remove them along with many other tips. Check out these mask resources.