Stepping Up to the Plate for Our Ocean With Major League Baseball

A recap of Ocean Conservancy's Earth Week event on PPE with MLB

Written By
Guest Blogger

This blog was written by Susie Goodell, Ocean Conservancy’s Communications intern for the Spring 2021 term and a member of the Dartmouth College Class of 2023, majoring in Environmental Studies. She is the Build Chair for the Dartmouth chapter of Habitat for Humanity and a scouting intern for the Dartmouth football team. Susie loves spending time on the coast of Maine with her dog.

Earth Week is an exciting time of the year, especially for those of us who care deeply about protecting nature. It is a chance for us to celebrate our planet and the incredible biodiversity it houses. It is also an opportunity to learn from and educate others about the threats to the planet and encourage them to act.

This Earth Week, the ongoing pandemic made us think about the impact of a new, everyday form of plastic waste: personal protective equipment (PPE).

In March 2021, Ocean Conservancy published Pandemic Pollution: The Rising Tide of Plastic PPE, a report aimed at raising awareness of the threats around PPE pollution. PPE includes face masks, gloves, face shields and disposable wipes, and these items are often made of plastic that is not recyclable. While PPE is an absolutely critical tool for protecting us from COVID-19, the sudden increase in these often single-use items means more pollution. Researchers have estimated that more than 129 billion face masks have been used every month of the pandemic. If not properly disposed of, one mask can shed more than 173,000 microplastic fibers in a day. It is also easy for marine animals to become entangled in the ear loops of masks.

Luckily, there are steps all of us—from individuals to companies—can take to tackle this problem.

Ocean Conservancy teamed up with Major League Baseball (MLB) to organize an Earth Week program to help educate employees from MLB and its 30 Clubs on the topic. Employees joined Nick Mallos, Senior Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program, to discuss PPE pollution.

As Nick explained, the PPE pollution we see today is the exacerbation of an existing crisis. A recent study found that 11 million metric tons of plastics per year—more than one garbage truckload per minute—are entering our ocean. During the last six months of 2020, International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) volunteers collected 107,000 pieces of PPE, which is just a small portion of the actual amount of PPE pollution.

While ICC volunteers are hard at work keeping our beaches and ocean clean in the face of this pollution, there is still much to be done, and we all have a part to play.

We are proud to work with organizations like MLB who are stepping up to the plate to help spread awareness of the urgent issues threatening our oceans. Through MLB Green, the league and teams have taken steps to make the game more ocean-friendly, from reducing single-use plastics in different ballparks to installing solar panels across ten different parks. Meanwhile, players like former San Francisco Giant, Hunter Pence, have used their platform to join Team Ocean. Learn more about we’re bringing our ocean to the world of sports with Team Ocean.

Here are steps that you can take to help:

  • Cut the ear loops of masks after use to lessen entanglement threats.
  • Make sure to dispose of your PPE at home or in secure, covered containers.
  • Participate in local cleanups using the Clean Swell app.

To see Nick’s conversation with MLB, watch the video here.

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