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Proper Disposal of PPE During COVID-19

By April 21, 2020No Comments

Before COVID-19 became a part of our lives, community organizations were picking up plastic bottles, cigarette butts and fast food litter.  We were fighting for Bottle Bills, Bag Bans and declaring war on plastic straws.  Current trends during COVID-19 show a different future coming for litter cleanups.  We are seeing more and more personal protective equipment (PPE) littering our parking lots and roadways.  Instead of bottles, butts and bags, we could be picking up gloves, masks and wipes during the next Great American Cleanup.

Keep America Beautiful began sharing these concerns in early April. “We have been hearing from more and more people who are seeing wipes, gloves, and other related items on streets and walking trails, or being left behind near supermarkets and pharmacies. The basic rules for proper trash disposal are taking on greater importance, given the COVID-19 virus. These materials are being used to protect us from possible contamination from COVID-19. If they are not disposed of properly, we are risking the spread of this life-threatening virus.”


Disposable gloves come in many colors and materials; vinyl, latex, nitrile.  None of these materials can be recycled and they should not be reused.  They do not belong in our parking lots, though. The images to your left show the proper way to remove these gloves to prevent cross contamination and, as seen in the final image, you should always dispose of them in a trash receptacle.  If you are using gloves to do simple chores outside the house, like grocery shopping, filling your car up with gas or picking up a take out order, please dispose of your them properly.  Throw them away in a trash receptacle outside the store before you get into your car.  If you feel the need to wear them until you get in the car then bring a bag with you and put them in the bag for home disposal.

Throwing used gloves in a parking lot or on the side of the road is never an option, not only does it create a litter problem, it can also spread the virus.  COVID-19 can survive on different materials from hours to days.  If a good samaritan or store employee picks up your gloves they can become infected themselves. This is a scary and uncertain time, but we do not have to turn into litter bugs. 


Masks are not as widely littered as gloves, but we do see them lying on the street.  As with gloves, disposable masks are not recyclable and should not be left as litter for others to handle.  Many people are making their own masks or buying reusable versions.  For the average citizen these are good options that save stronger, disposable options for healthcare workers and can prevent littering issues.  Make sure to wash your cloth masks in hot water after each use and don’t share them with others.  Everyone in your family should have their own mask and wear it when out in public.  If you don’t have a mask, you can make your own using these guidelines from the CDC.  Can’t sew?  You can also wear a bandana, face coverings meant for hunting/fishing/cold weather or try this no sew DIY version from Good Housekeeping.  

​Hand Sanitizer and Antibacterial Wipes

Another common COVID-19 item that is not always properly disposed of is antibacterial products.  Hand sanitizer is in high demand these days and people are using it up like crazy.  When you finish a smaller travel bottle, consider refilling it for continued use.  If you empty a larger bottle, make sure you rinse it out for recycling.  

Antibacterial wipes are also hard to come by and often disposed of incorrectly.  If you wipe your cart at the grocery store, the wipe should go in the trash can, not in the parking lot or left in your cart for others to touch.  Using wipes at home?  Make sure to throw them in the TRASH ONLY.  Wipes cannot be recycled and should never be flushed down the toilet. According to an article by CNN,  with national shortages, people are using wipes as a toilet paper alternative. We are also using them to disinfect and eliminate the virus from our homes and offices.  Many are flushing them down the toilet and clogging up sewer systems all over the country.  Even so called “flushable wipes” should not be flushed and can clog up our sewer system.  The EPA urges us to “only flush toilet paper” and nothing else!

This pandemic is serious and we all agree that PPE and disinfecting is necessary to stop the spread and protect ourselves.  What we don’t need to do is turn it into a new series of problems.  “No one should be leaving used plastic gloves or masks on the ground, in a parking lot or tossing them into the bushes,” said David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO. “Discarded contaminated PPE on the ground increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and has negative impacts on the environment.” Please dispose of your PPE and disinfecting products properly, share this information with others and help us to keep the Great American Cleanup from becoming the Great PPE cleanup!

For more information on this and related topics please visit our COVID-19 resource page at