People are increasingly wearing gloves and masks in public, in order to protect themselves and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Apparently, though, those gloves and masks need to come with proper disposal directions. Everywhere you look in America, it seems, there are discarded gloves and masks in streets and parking lots, left behind by people who couldn’t be bothered to find a nearby trash bin.
In Los Angeles, they’re scattered in parking lots of markets like Whole Foods, waiting for some already-exhausted employee to have to pick them up.
They’re tossed aside in parking lots in Orlando, Florida, too.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, local meteorologist David Reese found multiple pairs of gloves in the parking lot of his local Kroger.
In New England, someone abandoned their gloves in a cart at Costco, leaving an employee to fish them out and sanitize the cart before it could be used again.
It got so bad in New York City over the weekend, that Ryan McKenzie, a restauranteur who lives in Manhattan, began cleaning it up.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw so I went to the store and bought a grabber and for the last two hours in three square blocks of the East Village, this is what I found,” he told HuffPost. “It’s abhorrent and needs to be brought to people’s attentions.”
In the wake of complaints, local authorities are reminding folks of the penalties of littering.
After receiving so many reports of gloves and masks left behind in Parsippany, New Jersey, the local police department issued a warning on Facebook: “Clean up and properly dispose of your used gloves and wipes. If you do not, you can be charged and fined up to $500.”
In Yorktown, New York, the current fine of $500 for littering will be doubled to $1,000 for the first violation for anyone caught improperly discarding face masks and gloves.
Of course, it shouldn’t take a hefty fine to encourage people to clean up after themselves. There are quite a few reasons why leaving your gloves behind is among the worst things you can do during this pandemic.
If the used gloves have the virus on them, you could infect essential workers.
The concern that led you to put on gloves in the first place shouldn’t be reserved for you and your family; you should be just as concerned about others getting coronavirus, too.
The obvious selfishness of throwing a used glove on the ground is what’s most frustrating, said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate chair and professor of health science at Ball State University.
“With such behaviors, where is our dignity? Where is our respect? Civic sense?” he told HuffPost. “We tend to judge everyone and cry about human rights: Where are these rights when we throw masks and gloves that can infect others? We cannot be safe by putting others in danger.”
The danger, of course, lies in the fact that the virus could be on the used gloves; studies show that coronavirus can live on surfaces for days.
“If we keep doing this, we could end up infecting our frontline and essential workers and personnel,” Khubchandani said. “Not to mention overburdening waste management workers and city health departments who are already stretched for resources.”
It’s an environmental risk too: The used gloves could end up in the ocean.
Outside of being a potential biohazard, the gloves could eventually end up in stormwater drains.
Some of the gloves contain non-biodegradable plastics, said Mariajose Algarra, the founder of Clean This Beach Up, an environmental organization fighting plastic pollution in Miami Beach, Florida.
“Most people are oblivious to the negative impact that littering brings to the environment,” she said. “Just like many smokers don’t know that cigarette butts contain plastic, people littering gloves might not be aware that latex and nitrile items are not biodegradable.”
To bring awareness to the current problem, Algarra started a hashtag campaign, #TheGloveChallenge.
“If you see a glove, snap a shot,” the callout on Instagram said.
Since launching the campaign on March 23, Alagarra said they’ve received over 700 pictures from people all over the United States and in other countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Canada and Japan. (Algarra stressed that they’re not encouraging anyone to pick up the items, unless they feel comfortable and have the proper protective equipment.)
She hopes the campaign will educate people who never stopped to think about where their used masks and gloves might end up (or who they might infect).
That said, she recognizes that getting the message across to others might be an uphill battle.
“I think some litterers have a sense of entitlement, a feeling that other people, especially those who get paid to, should clean up after them,” Algarra said. “Others litter due to laziness and believe that disposing of trash property is an inconvenience. I don’t know how to get through to them.”
A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus
- Stay up to date with our live blog as we cover the COVID-19 pandemic
- How long are asymptomatic carriers contagious?
- What to do if you can’t pay rent right now
- How to switch off from work when home is your office
- Why we should forgive student loans for doctors on the front lines
- How to make a face mask with just a bandana
- How long does coronavirus live in the air?
- The HuffPost guide to working from home
- What coronavirus questions are on your mind right now? We want to help you find answers.
- Everyone deserves accurate information about COVID-19. Support journalism without a paywall — and keep it free for everyone — by becoming a HuffPost member today.