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Rochester faces new waste disposal problem as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Written by on April 29, 2020

In the past, litter awareness campaigns usually talked about people littering with candy and fast food wrappers, cans and bottles, cigarette butts or plastic bags. Since more people have started to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in public, a new waste disposal problem has emerged in parking lots and other places around the country.

Mark Benfield, a professor with Louisiana State University who studies pollution from microplastics, told CNN’s Aditi Sangal on Tuesday, April 21, that he has seen a huge uptick in people littering with PPE products, such as disposable wipes, gloves and masks. The amount of litter was more than he had expected to see during a short walk around a single block near his home in Baton Rouge.

He has spoken with other members of academia world-wide and this new litter problem is happening everywhere. He is now asking people from around the world to email him to complete a survey about the waste in their areas. Anyone can participate.

As Benfield explained to CNN: “Preliminary data from these survey responses shows that gloves are the most common PPE waste. In the US, masks are difficult for the public to get. So gloves are the most commonly found PPE waste on the street. In China, masks are freely available. So you see more masks discarded.”

Benfield and others advise the public to dispose of wipes, gloves and masks in regular trash instead of recycling even though PPE items contain latex or plastic. Rochester residents who want to take Benfield’s survey can do so by emailing him at covid19waste@gmail.com.


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