Fighting for Trash Free Seas®

Ending the flow of trash at the source

Pandemic Pollution: The Rising Tide of Plastic PPE

Volunteers removed 107,219 items of personal protective equipment (PPE) from beaches and waterways worldwide in second half of 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the use of certain types of plastic products. This includes personal protective equipment (PPE) but also single-use plastic bags, food and beverage containers and other single-use plastics that can harm our communities and the ocean and present waste management challenges.

Ocean Conservancy added PPE to the Clean Swell® mobile app in late July 2020, a few months after the pandemic reached the United States, and volunteers have tracked these items ever since. We are grateful that so many of our volunteers were able to safely conduct a cleanup during the pandemic by practicing social distancing and using PPE. Their incredible efforts have supplied us with data that demonstrate how the pandemic is contributing to the problem of plastic pollution.

Disposable personal protective equipment found on a beach
Disposable personal protective equipment found on a beach © Maddie Black

This report is intended to shed light on the growing presence of PPE pollution burdening the environment since the start of the pandemic. It also includes recommendations for how all of us can help prevent plastics from entering the environment in the first place while ensuring PPE and other plastics are responsibly managed. As we protect our communities and each other in the face of this invisible threat we can all do more to protect our communities and our ocean from the impacts of the pandemic.

Download the report [PDF]

Pandemic Pollution: The Rising Tide of Plastic
© Ocean Conservancy

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