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Increased personal protective equipment litter as a result of COVID-19 measures

Keiron P. Roberts (), Sui C. Phang, John B. Williams, David J. Hutchinson, Simon E. Kolstoe, Jasper Bie, Ian D. Williams and Anne M. Stringfellow
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Keiron P. Roberts: University of Portsmouth
Sui C. Phang: University of Portsmouth
John B. Williams: University of Portsmouth
David J. Hutchinson: University of Portsmouth
Simon E. Kolstoe: University of Portsmouth
Jasper Bie: Griffith University
Ian D. Williams: University of Southampton
Anne M. Stringfellow: University of Southampton

Nature Sustainability, 2022, vol. 5, issue 3, 272-279

Abstract: Abstract Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) increased during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce virus transmission. Here, we quantitatively analyse emergence of PPE and COVID-19-related litter over 14 months for 11 countries using the litter collection application Litterati. The proportion of masks in litter increased by >80-fold as a result of COVID-19 legislation, from 0.8%. Gloves and wipes, more prevalent at ~0.2% of litter before the pandemic, doubled to 0.4%, but this has since fallen. Glove litter increased in the initial stages of the pandemic but fell after the introduction of facemask policies, whereupon there was an increase of facemask litter. National COVID-19 policy responses and international World Health Organization announcements and recommendations are a probable driver of PPE litter dynamics, especially the implementation of facemask policies. Waste management should be incorporated in designing future pandemic policies to avoid negative environmental legacies of mismanaged PPE.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00824-1

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