TAMPA, Fla. — As we work to rebound from the pandemic, we are learning face masks and gloves designed to protect us from COVID-19 are proving harmful to Tampa Bay area waterways.
Environmental advocates say they are finding more and more face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment littered on the ground, which eventually often ends up in our rivers, streams and bays.
Keeping Tampa Bay Beautiful (KTTB) is a non-profit organization that organizes clean-ups across Hillsborough County. They've helped direct self-led clean-ups during the pandemic.
Volunteers with the organization say they don't believe a lot of the litter involving personal protective equipment is intentional. Instead, they say they think people are accidentally dropping face masks and gloves on the ground when coming in and out of places.
"I think a lot of times you think you're putting it in your pocket, and it falls out or you're putting it in your purse and it falls," said Laura Riiska with Keeping Tampa Bay Beautiful. "It just happens."
Keeping Tampa Bay Beautiful counts the trash they collect and organizers say personal protective equipment accounts for about one percent of everything they collect. However, they say the problem has been growing increasingly worse as the pandemic continues.
Back in April and May, they say they were finding more disposable gloves littered on the ground and in the water. But now, they are finding more face masks.
Now, they are encouraging people to attach their face masks to a lanyard to cut down on accidental PPE litter.
"When we have volunteers, we give out lanyards, and we promote putting your mask on your lanyard," Riiska said. "You can put it take put it on, take it off, and it's hanging right there."
KTBB is also asking people to cut the ear loops off of disposable masks before throwing them away.
"That way it doesn't entangle our wildlife in case it does find itself its way into the waterway," Riiska said.