Over 7,000 gloves and masks littered across NI, survey finds

Northern Ireland’s streets are littered with over 7,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as disposal facemasks and gloves, according to a new survey.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 11:31 am
PPE litter in Northern Ireland

The head of a waste management body for six local councils has said the way litter relating to the pandemic is being discarded on our streets is creating an environmental problem that “will be with us for generations”.

The acting chief executive of arc21, Tim Walker, was commenting on the results of a survey by the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful charity which found in its annual ‘Cleaner Neighbourhoods’ report that the overall cleanliness of streets, roads and recreational spaces had deteriorated compared to last year.

The report, in a section looking specifically at the PPE littering problem, states: “At any one time there could be 5,272 gloves and 2,000 masks, giving a total of 7,272 items on our streets.”

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The report added: “It is important that the public recognise that using Personal Protective Equipment comes with the responsibility of not just using it properly but also disposing of it in a way that doesn’t harm the environment and other members of the public.”

Other research has estimated that 52m face masks are being used daily in the UK and that globally the figure could be 129bn every month.

The ‘single use plastic’ used to manufacture the masks is not bio-degradable and if not disposed of correctly, will end up being carried into local waterways and on to the oceans.

Mr Walker, acting CEO of arc21, said: “Public health is our first and foremost concern during the pandemic and there are occasions when it’s necessary to use PPE made from single use plastic.

“Given, however, that disposable PPE is creating not just litter, but an environmental problem which will be with us for generations, we should all use reusable masks whenever possible.”

He continued: “Single Use Plastic is exactly as it is described.

“It can’t be reused or recycled; it just breaks down into smaller and smaller micro-plastic particles which will end up in oceans, in animals, in the food chain and eventually, in people.”

Mr Walker added: “Every year, it’s estimated that more than eight million tons of plastic escapes into the oceans from coastal nations.

“As a society we need to end our love affair with Single Use Plastic and support producers and policies which promote alternative solutions. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to make the switch to reusable masks for the sake of our wildlife and environment, and for our frontline waste workers who have to deal with this.”