Surge in marine plastic waste as people discard PPE used to ward off Covid-19

Surge in marine plastic waste as people discard PPE used to ward off Covid-19
By Michael DaventryLuke Hanrahan
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Campaigners say beaches and seas across southern England are becoming littered with discarded medical equipment used to protect against coronavirus.


On England's south coast, there is evidence of a new dimension to an old problem.

Plastic waste has long plagued our seas and posed a threat to marine ecosystems, but now there is a new threat: personal protective equipment (PPE), widely used to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Shorelines in the area are now littered with the discarded equipment; some are left behind by beach users, others are washed in by the sea.

Wildlife experts say the problem is "absolutely horrendous."

"We’re finding dozens of masks, even visors," said Joe Williams, a senior aquarist at the Sea Life aquarium in Brighton.

"We’ve found birds with their gullets stuffed full of latex gloves, a nest of dead chicks — crabs tangled up in face masks — it’s everywhere.”

“PPE is a whole new breed of single-use plastic that we didn’t have even in January," said Claire Potter, a marine plastic expert who leads a team of volunteers to clear Brighton's beaches.

"We’re now seeing it being washed up onto the beaches — it’s coming in, we’re also seeing it left on the beaches as well.

"We can’t forget to actually look after our natural world and we can’t forget those great practices and behaviour we learnt.”

A 45-minute swim out at sea was all it took for Euronews's correspondent to find a discarded blue rubber glove of the kind widely used since the coronavirus outbreak.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to combat the increase in single-use plastics like these, especially after so much work has been done to raise awareness in recent years.

In 2018, the British government banned the sale of products containing microbeads - the tiny pieces of plastic once popular in cosmetic products, including face scrubs and soaps.

After it emerged that the products ended up in the oceans and were being eaten by wildlife, experts estimated a single shower could send 100,000 microbeads into the ocean.

Local politicians in England believe that a sense of awareness should not be lost.

“We’re seeing gloves, aprons, facemasks and the like – we need to take strong action on those things and make sure that single-use plastics are phased out where possible," said Phélim Mac Cafferty, a Green Party councillor.

"And if they can’t be phased out, that there are clear ways in which they can be disposed of in a careful way. “

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