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How to reduce PPE pollution at work

How to reduce PPE pollution at work

As the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the UK and rest of the world, we have been left with a new problem to deal with: PPE pollution. We do need PPE to keep us safe, both from coronavirus and other accidental injuries in the workplace, but it is also important that we consider the impact of using high quantities of disposable PPE on our planet.

Here is how you can reduce PPE pollution at work, enabling you to protect your staff and customers while limiting plastic waste.

What is the Problem?

When COVID-19 was at its peak, over one billion items of disposable PPE were handed out in the UK. While in a medial environment these masks are disposed of correctly, we now find them littering our streets and our oceans. According to the founder of Operation Clean Sea, if we continue to use disposable PPE at our current rate there could be “more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.” This poses a threat to wildlife and human health.

Off the back of this increase in PPE use, reports estimate that 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste from face coverings alone will be produced in the UK in 2020. While COVID is an imminent threat, the long term effects of such a rapid increase in single-use plastic will have on our planet cannot be overlooked.

Switch to Reusable Face Coverings

While medical-grade masks are required in healthcare, workers in other front line industries such as retail and hospitality should not be relying on disposable masks. As an employer, by kitting your employees out with reusable face coverings, you can limit the amount of single-use plastic at work. While these masks will not last forever, they can be washed and reused up to 20 times, resulting in a significant reduction in plastic pollution.

Train Staff in PPE Usage & Disposal

For staff to correctly use and dispose of their PPE, they need to receive proper training. While some workplace PPE such as hardhats and earplugs can be disposed of relatively easily, disposing of face masks that have potentially been contaminated is important for both further controlling the spread of COVID-19 and for protecting our planet.

Environmentalists are encouraging people to snip the straps from their masks, helping to limit the amount of wildlife or marine life that get tangled in the loops. Also, be sure to throw reused masks in with general waste and not recycling.


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