Littering epidemic

Masks and gloves are being chucked on the streets in the Sultanate, raising concerns that this could be an infection hazard in addition to being an environmental hazard. Littering can be challenging to eradicate in the best of times – and these clearly aren’t the best of times.

“It damages our environment in addition to spreading the coronavirus contagion. This is infectious waste and should not be littered around”, said an official at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs.

He said that many items of Personal Protection Equipment contain plastics that are not recyclable or biodegradable, and they need to be treated as they pose risks to both humans and wildlife.

“While PPE helps us fight a public health challenge, they should not become a threat to the sanitary workers who come in contact with them and also should not harm the environment”, he said.

Studies have shown that plastic does not biodegrade; instead, it breaks down into tiny pieces over time and eventually enters water bodies as microplastic.

In a recent statement, the ministry warned that throwing the masks in public places like roads or beaches could become a health and environmental concern.

“The PPE waste should be disposed of properly to preserve the health of our society and to adhere to the guidelines of the Basel Convention on environmentally-sound waste management”, the statement said.

With most offices reopened after the lockdown, there is rising concern about the safe disposal at their premises for lack of enough bins except for those used for throwing stationery or other general waste.

“All offices both in the public and private sector should commit to providing separate trash bins for depositing PPE waste”, suggested an official at Muscat Municipality.

If additional bins are not provided, he said, employees should be provided with small bags so that they can put the used PPE into and then dispose of it in bins. “These items should not be flushed down the toilet as they can clog sewage lines”, he said.