How Should You Dispose of PPE Waste?
Feb 12 2021
The last 12 months have precipitated a sea change in the daily habits of individuals, businesses and governments all over the world. The outbreak of COVID-19, first discovered in Wuhan City, China in December 2019 and then spreading to the rest of the world at the beginning of the following year, has made the phrase personal protective equipment (PPE) part of our everyday lexicon.
But while wearing face masks, gloves and gowns and using wipes and cloths might be a necessary measure to prevent the spread of the disease, one environmental implication of coronavirus has been the amount of waste that has been generated as a result. So how should everyday citizens and commercial entities dispose of the mountains of PPE waste that they produce on a weekly or even daily basis?
The first thing to note is that even though PPE items might be made from plastic, they are not recyclable in the same way that bottles, straws and packaging containers can be. This applies to all types of PPE. Due to the complex nature of the manufacturing process used to create gloves, face masks and other items, they are not suitable for recycling and should be kept away from designated bins or bags.
Instead, PPE should be disposed of responsibly. The exact method used to do so will vary depending on what the equipment has been used for and whether or not it has come into contact with a potential carrier of the virus. If there is no chance that it has been exposed to the virus, the PPE can be placed alongside other items of general household or business waste.
However, if there is a possibility that the PPE carries traces of COVID-19, it must be dealt with more rigorously. First, the items should be placed inside a plastic refuse bag and the opening should be securely tied. It should then be bagged a second time, with the second bag also secured at the opening, and stored in a safe place for 72 hours. This is to ensure that all traces of the virus have been eliminated. After three days have elapsed, the double-bagged items may be placed with other general waste.
Reuse where possible
Of course, the health and safety of yourself and those with whom you come into contact is of paramount importance and you should never refrain from wearing PPE because you are worried about the environmental impact of doing so. At the same time, there are steps you can take to curb your ecological footprint.
One such step is to follow the lead of climate scientists by reducing your consumption of plastic as much as possible. When it comes to PPE, this doesn’t mean wearing items less frequently, but rather sourcing a sustainable product instead of a single-use item where possible. Reusable face masks are found in abundant supply on the internet or in your local shop and if you buy a quality item, use filters and wash it regularly, it will endow you with the same protection as a single-use option.
Other items such as gloves and gowns are more difficult to reuse, while it’s virtually impossible to do so with wipes and the suchlike. However, if every person and every business do their utmost to reduce the amount of PPE waste they generate, the cumulative total can be brought down significantly
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