• Sofia Eugeniou

Discarded PPE adds to plastic pollution problem in oceans

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Discarded face masks and gloves are posing a serious risk to marine life.

Image credit: Fox 29 Philadelphia

Plastic pollution in our oceans is one of the most pressing environmental issues we currently face.

Plastic is everywhere and it is something we cannot easily escape from. Although useful and convenient, plastic also poses a massive pollution problem, especially in our oceans.

Vast amounts of plastic flow into our oceans every minute - UK supermarkets alone produce 800,000 tonnes of plastic that ends up in the ocean every year. Bottles, pots and food trays are the easiest to spot.

Microplastic fibres - the tiny particles that are the result of broken-down plastic - are some of the most threatening to marine life. Microbeads, found in cosmetics and some kinds of toothpaste, are also highly harmful when they end up in our oceans.

Despite society generally becoming more eco-conscious, the issue of plastic persists. Being both cheap and disposable, plastic continues to be a symbol of our throwaway culture.

As more people get on board with wearing masks and gloves in public due to the coronavirus outbreak, the high demand for personal protective equipment has contributed to the plastic catastrophe that is killing our oceans.

A new issue for our oceans is the disposal of these masks and gloves in a safe and proper manner.

Single-use masks and latex gloves are being discarded haphazardly and our finding their way to our beaches, oceans and even public spaces such as parks.

The key problem with this is single-use PPE is typically made from plastics such as polypropylene, which aren't biodegradable and can pose a severe threat to our ecosystems. Plastic debris in the oceans injures and kills fish, seabirds and marine mammals.

Ingested microplastics also contribute to the deaths of marine life, whilst indirectly harming humans by reentering our food system when we consume seafood.

Cleanup efforts by divers have removed heaps of disposable surgical masks and latex gloves, with the founder of Operation Clean Sea, Laurent Lombard, stating: "Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean".

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