Washington DC, United States — Health experts from around the world today endorsed the use of well-made reusable masks or gloves that are properly sanitised in order to protect the environment from pollution as well as our communities from the global COVID-19 pandemic. As countries continue to face shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), the experts encouraged the general public to practice basic hygiene practices like handwashing and utilise reusable masks while leaving medical-grade and single-use PPE for healthcare and essential workers.
“The general public should be using reusable face masks and performing routine laundering at home. It is unnecessary for personal safety, and harmful to planetary health to use disposable gloves for shopping. Hand sanitizer or soap and water are both safe and effective,” said Dr. Jodi Sherman, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Epidemiology and Director of the Program on Healthcare Environmental Sustainability with Yale University in the United States.
According to a study in Environmental Science & Technology, the world is using an estimated 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion disposable gloves each month during the pandemic. The study finds that not only has this led to widespread environmental contamination, it poses a significant public health risk as this waste serves as a vector for the virus.
“Our health depends on the health of our planet’s natural resources. Single-use plastic materials are contaminating our air, water, and soil and, therefore, harming our health. Breaking free from single-use plastics is now a matter of public health.” said Dr. Saulo Delfino Barboza, associate professor of the Health & Education Program at University of Ribeirao Preto in Brazil.
The United Nations has also raised the possibility of additional locally manufactured incinerators to deal with the excess waste from PPE, which would impact air quality for surrounding communities. Communities of colour are disproportionately impacted by pollution, which has exacerbated their already higher rates of COVID-19 illness and death.
“We cannot protect human health without a healthy environment. The hundreds of billions of throwaway plastic masks and gloves we are using come at an enormous cost, particularly for communities of color near landfills and incinerators where it is dumped or burned. We need to protect ourselves from COVID today in ways that will not endanger us to other deadly diseases in the future,” said Greenpeace USA oceans campaign director John Hocevar.
These health experts are speaking out weeks after over 130 health experts from twenty countries signed onto a statement assuring retailers and consumers that reusable bags and containers can be used safely during COVID-19.
The full list of quotes by health experts on PPE can be found here.
Photos of PPE waste in the US can be found here
Photos of PPE waste in Italy can be found here
Greenpeace International’s toolkit on reusable masks can be found here
Capucine Dayen, Greenpeace USA Global Comms Lead for Plastics: +33 647 971 819, [email protected]
Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Seniors Communications Specialist: +301-675-8766, [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk, +31 (0)20 718 2470 (available 24 hours), [email protected]