Mask litter and other PPE trash poses an environmental risk

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 5:27 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Litter from personal protective equipment, or PPE, has become a worldwide pollution issue, and Tallahassee is not immune. Local environmental activists say face masks in particular are a problem.

Kristen Summers is a Board Member of Sustainable Tallahassee; she says she’s noticed the litter issue getting worse.

“Anywhere you can find litter, there’s masks as well,” said Summers.

Mayor John Dailey pointed out the issue of litter during the unagendaed comments at a City Commission meeting last December.

“I think we’ve got too much trash on the ground in Tallahassee,” said Dailey. “I do think that we should have a serious conversation about beautification, we can move forward, do a massive cleanup, but at the same time, how do we continue to keep our streets clean as well.”

On a brief drive around Tallahassee on Monday, WCTV found disposable mask litter in shopping center parking lots, along roadways and sidewalks and even in some parks.

Summers says the make-up of disposable masks is a big part of the problem.

“Masks are made out of different types of polymers, which are plastic, and they release microfibers, which is a very, very tiny type of plastic that ends up in our waterways, it ends up in fish, the part that we eat,” said Summers.

Mask trash poses a threat to animals too.

“It tangles up birds and other wildlife and causes actual harm to them,” said Summers.

A report from the group Ocean Conservancy says in the second half of 2020, more than 107,000 items of PPE litter were collected by volunteers.

Some local governments in Florida are taking action; last month, the Boca Raton City Council voted to institute a $250 fine for anyone caught littering COVID-related PPE.

Summers says there is a simple fix.

“Please put your mask in the trash; or better yet, use a reusable cloth mask.”

Sustainable Tallahassee is doing a “Tally Trash Challenge,” hosting micro clean-ups throughout the community until Sunday. You can learn more here.

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