There has been an increasing amount of messaging in the media about personal protective equipment (PPE), and how items such as masks, face shields, and gloves are protecting professionals that are exposed to the virus on a daily basis. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s not just healthcare and other professionals who wear PPE–the general public has also been cautioned in Canada and the U.S. to wear non-medical face coverings when possible. Many individuals also feel more safe wearing disposable latex or vinyl gloves in public, even though professionals across both countries have advised against it due to the hindrances it creates regarding proper hand-washing recommendations. Although mass-use of PPE equipment is of significant importance in preventing the spread of COVID-19, PPE poses a challenge for our environment once they’re discarded into the waste stream.
The Pollution Problem with PPE
Many of these protective items are made from plastic and hard to recycle materials. They are also often single-use, which is an issue that is difficult to avoid especially in the healthcare industry. More often than not, single-use is the most effective way to eliminate possible contamination, meaning large quantities of plastic are being used and disposed of every day. The rapidly growing need for these single-use items has also caused an increasing need for disposal solutions.
Many people are experiencing a lack of options for disposing of their PPE, and because they are often afraid to bring these contaminated items into their vehicles or pack them up with their personal items, the common reaction is to litter. The effect that this has on the appearance of public and community spaces is one factor, but the ways in which this affects our planet as a whole are much more concerning.
In France, the NGO Opération Mèr Propre released a video that showed handfuls of PPE being pulled from the ocean. Co-founder of the organization Joko Peltier explains and age-old problem that is true in these current times; “Anything that is thrown into the street can end up in the sea”. Plastic pollution is not a new problem, it is something that scientists have warned us about in the past. However, the increased amount of plastic and non-biodegradable PPE items have only amplified this problem, by polluting the oceans that are home to a large population of wildlife and a massive part of our planet.
How Can This Be Prevented?
Although the pandemic has caused a major resurgence of single-use hard to recycle items, this does not mean we have to set aside our environmental concerns. There are still many ways to ensure you are doing your part to help keep our planet safe and healthy.
The most effective solution is to develop a PPE disposal program at your workplace. This type of diversion program is likely familiar to anyone in the healthcare industry, but many other types of businesses have developed the same need for PPE disposal as their employees and the general public are using PPE on a daily basis. Since this is new territory to many businesses, we’ve developed 6 tips on how to create a successful PPE disposal program that not only keeps your grounds clean, but provides a safe environment for everyone in your facility.
- Add More Containers
- Create PPE Specific Streams
- Proper Signage and Labelling
- Plan Out Bin Placement
- Ensure Safe Disposal and Servicing
- Communicate your Program!
Many businesses that are open to the public have removed or limited their waste and recycling receptacles within their facilities to minimize the need for servicing. This makes it difficult for the public to dispose of their PPE items, meaning they are more likely to leave them in parking lots, on sidewalks, and in the street. Instead of removing your receptacles, it is actually best to add more. The more options available to the public the more likely they are to properly dispose of their masks, gloves, wipes, and other waste.
Consider purchasing separate receptacles or adding a PPE stream to your current containers. Having a separate stream will remind staff and guests to use these specific streams to dispose of their masks and gloves as opposed to other streams such as recycling. Busch Systems has specifically designed containers to accommodate PPE disposal, click here to learn more.
Up until earlier this year, many people have never had to think about how to dispose of their gloves, masks, and anti-bacterial wipes. Now that these have become extremely common items, it is important that public places update their bin signage to encourage proper disposal. Simply adding icons of gloves and masks, or adding simple words and messaging can remind your employees and visitors to dispose of their PPE where indicated. If you have containers with multiple streams, proper signage and labeling will reduce the confusion of where these newly common items are supposed to go. This will keep PPE from contaminating your other streams such as recycling, and reduce the chance of littering. To see some examples of proper signage for PPE disposal, click here.
Just as we recommend for any recycling program, it is important to consider the areas within your facility that need PPE disposal streams the most. Be sure to evaluate the spaces in which your employees might need access to proper PPE disposal, as well as your guests. People are most likely to remove or dispose of their gloves and masks when they are leaving, and no longer in contact with public spaces. This makes exits and parking lots the most important places to have PPE disposal. The right container with clear signage in employee areas and upon exiting could drastically help reduce the likelihood of littering or improper disposal of PPE.
In public spaces, containers that have flaps or lids may not be ideal during a viral pandemic. Limiting the amount of contact necessary for disposal is crucial in making sure your guests and employees are safe. Busch Systems has also developed the New Element lid option, made from CuVerro® bactericidal copper that is EPA registered and actively kills bacteria. Investing in this option not only helps reduce viral spreading in case of contact with the container, but also increases the safety of your employees during servicing. Learn more about the Element Lid here.
Once you have implemented these program changes, it is important that you broadcast them to increase their effectiveness. Communicate the changes to your employees so that they are aware of new protocols and can safely dispose of their PPE. You can also put up posters and send emails to clients or visitors, advising that there are containers for PPE disposal and encouraging them not to litter. This not only demonstrates your facility’s care for safety and the environment, but it also helps encourage people to make use of your changes and ensure program success!
In addition to these 6 steps, you can also encourage the use of reusable PPE such as washable fabric masks and garden or utility gloves. These changes have been adopted by many businesses already, helping reduce PPE pollution and increasing the safety of the public.
Busch Systems is committed to adapting to the needs of our ever-changing environment, which is why we work so hard to provide innovative solutions that fit the needs of your business and the planet. We recognize that implementing a PPE disposal program has its challenges, and we encourage you to connect with us so that we can work to find the perfect solution together. To browse some of our PPE disposal containers, click here, or connect with your sales representative at any time to discuss your options or share your story about safe and successful PPE collection.