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Jack Bain looks at the environmental problems of poor disposal

Hopefully we are all familiar with the Government’s current mantra on keeping safe during COVID-19, which to my mind, is the common sense approach that everyone should have been adopting from day one.

Just in case this has passed you by:

  • Hands – means regular and thorough hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer when you enter places with other members of the public
  • Face – means wearing a mask or face cover when in shops, transport and other areas where you may be in close proximity to others
  • Space – means keeping your distance from other people

However, a recent report on the BBC website makes me think that we should add another word to this mantra – Waste!

  • Waste – means disposing of your PPE sensibly and responsibly with both safety AND the environment in mind

Thai authorities are so fed up they are planning to send litter back to the litterbugs!

Jack Bain Jack Bain A member of the Sustainability Team

Who knew we’d need PPE

Last January, like the vast majority of the population, I didn't own a mask and I wouldn’t even have known where to buy them.

That statement, although true - seems so bizarre when compared to the amount of Personal Protective Equipment I now own.

That PPE; masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, has been a staple throughout this period, and has enabled us to reduce the risk to ourselves, our families and other people.

Unfortunately, it is also having a negative impact on the environment...

Abusing nature

Last week the BBC published an article that focuses on the impact of the waste generated through the huge rise in the use of personal PPE due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of the disposable items that have been protecting us have the potential to do the opposite for our environment - especially when they are improperly disposed of.

The government does provide us with guidance for the safe (and minimum impact) disposal of these items.

The key takeaways are:

  • Reusable PPE should be used over disposable whenever possible. These should be washed regularly to keep them effective
  • When PPE needs to be thrown away, it should be placed among normal household waste (black bag waste) and not in the recycling. (Masks and gloves cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities)

Name and shame

The charity mentioned in the BBC report ‘Surfers Against Sewage’, says that it plans to start using social media to name and shame individual companies whose waste it finds most regularly.

Although there is always more that manufacturers can do to encourage consumers to dispose of waste responsibly, I’m not entirely sure about going after brands in this way as the onus has to be on the people leaving the litter behind in the first place, surely?

Perhaps the approach by the authorities in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park would be more appropriate?

Coming right back at you

The BBC reported on Friday that the authorities are so fed up of the amount of litter tourists leave behind in the park, that they are planning to send it back to the litterbugs!

In the report, Thailand's environment minister also said that the offenders will be registered with the police, presumably to face tougher sanctions if they are seen to repeat offend.

The system only works because park visitors have to register their addresses, so I’m not entirely convinced this will work in the UK, where even getting people to register when they visit a pub or restaurant during the pandemic seems difficult, but perhaps it’s worth a try?

Whatever happens though, we must all be more responsible, not only for keeping ourselves, our families, colleagues and communities safe from risk of COVID, but also for making sure that we don’t cause harm to the environment.

Jack Bain, member of the Sustainability Team