Every Earth Day, people talk about joining hand-in-hand to preserve what we have on our planet. That’s not the case this year or last year, however. Instead of joining hands, we are six feet apart relying on our eyes to communicate.

That’s because COVID-19 personal protective equipment, or PPE, is changing the way we live our lives. Yes, the masks and gloves have helped protect our bodies from COVID-19, but the impact PPEs have had on our environment is just starting to be realized.

The sad reality is that for wildlife, disposable PPE is far from protective. The Ocean Conservancy recently released a survey that saw participants at cleanup events pick up over 100,000 pieces of PPE in 2021. While most of the trash is found on land, more than a third of participants reported that they had found masks, gloves, and other PPEs in oceans or other bodies of water. Here are some tips and tricks on how to help save our environment this year!

“Cut it out!”

Remember how we were told to cut plastic six-pack soda rings up before we recycle them because animals would get caught in the loops? Well, the same thing is happening with fish and littered masks! If you DO have to use one-time-use masks, be sure to not only throw them away properly but to cut the ear-loops before you toss them. Nemo will thank you.

“Well, how can I help?”

It can be a big ask to go around picking up other people’s PPE, especially with how easy may be to catch COVID-19. But you CAN start with how you shop! Reuseable masks, filters, and gloves are sold at every major retailer now. (You can find more fashionable mask designs at clothing stores!) You can encourage your friends and family to shop reusable instead of buying the industrial packs of masks at retailers, as well.

“I want to go above and beyond!”

Great! The biggest way you can help protect our environment is to help pick up trash that other people have littered. Of course, you should don protective equipment yourself as these are PPEs that strangers have used — you don’t know where they’ve been! Be sure to practice safety while picking up other’s trash as well. If you’re doing it near a busy highway, wear bright colors and make sure you are easy to spot!

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