Single-use face masks, plastic gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) worn to slow the spread of Covid-19 save lives. But they’re also creating a lot of waste.
PPE is usually made of plastic, which can take thousands of years to break down. When discarded on the ground instead of in a trash can, it can be carried into streams and rivers. “From there, it often ends up in the ocean,” says Adam Clause, a scientist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. That’s a problem for marine life, which can become tangled in the plastic pollution or mistake it for food. But it’s possible to reduce the plastic waste you produce during the pandemic by wearing reusable cloth masks, says Clause.