Discarded protective gloves are pictured on the street in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is introducing a new type of litterbug as people are dropping gloves and masks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Gloves and masks become problem litter as COVID-19 prompts people to cover up

Vancouver’s director of zero waste and resource recovery says the city is experiencing medical litter

When Debbie Barna takes her dogs Moe and Joey for a walk, she sees gloves and masks around her apartment building.

“I’ve noticed on the lawn area where we take the dogs, the masks are starting to appear,” she says. “It’s noticeable. You get the face masks. You get the rubber gloves.”

The property maintenance company Barna works for in Winnipeg and others in Canada are experiencing an increase in medical litter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We noticed it particularly outside of grocery stores and drug stores,” says Brian Winch of Quality Maintenance in Calgary. “I have noticed more of it spreading out to other types of businesses.

“A lot of people now, when they get gas, whether it be gloves or sanitary wipes, when they fuel up … even though there’s litter containers right by the pumps, they don’t go there. They just toss them on the ground.”

Graham Dreger of Winnipeg’s Terrace Property Maintenance has seen more discarded masks since Canada’s chief public health officer said earlier this month that wearing a non-medical mask could help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“There has obviously been an increase in masks because people weren’t wearing masks before, but I don’t think it’s as bad here as it is in other parts of the country,” Dreger says.

Greg Jankowski of Patch of Green in Milton, Ont., doesn’t see discarded wipes “but gloves and masks definitely.”

“In the parking lot and the flower beds, I guess the wind blows them when people toss them,” Jankowski says. “Any corner of the parking lot or in a stairwell going to an underground garage.”

The company owners say their crews use gloves, pickup sticks or brooms to handle litter.

“We don’t touch general garbage with our bare hands just because you never know what’s there, right?” Jankowski says.

How hazardous are those blue gloves tossed aside in parking lots in terms of an infection risk to the public?

“It’s hard to say,” says Dr. Chris Sikora, medical health officer for the Edmonton zone of Alberta Health Services.

“When we look at this discarded material, whether it’s gloves or masks from whatever source, (it) may carry viral material from the last wearer. I don’t know how long the virus would remain active or viable on those surfaces.

“After a period of time in harsh environments, sunlight, cold or wet weather, oxidated environments will break down the virus and make it non-viable.

“As a general rule, you and I would not be touching gloves on the ground. But on the flip side, you and I would be touching many door handles and frames during the day, many taps in sinks, handrails. Those are probably a higher risk.”

Sikora says that while Health Canada has deemed people wearing non-medical masks could help contain the spread of the virus, he doesn’t believe wearing gloves to the grocery store will do that.

“It doesn’t make sense to wear gloves in public.”

READ MORE: Prime Minister Trudeau taking cautious approach to economic recovery plans

Medical staff have been trained to use gloves properly, says Sikora, who adds they’ll wash their hands right before putting them on and after immediately taking them off.

“You wear those gloves out in the public, you’re touching door handles, you’re touching various other things, you’re still going to touch your face, your eyes, your mouth and your nose and run the exact same risk of contamination,” he explains.

“People don’t as a general rule do hand hygiene out in public before and after putting on their gloves.”

Vancouver’s director of zero waste and resource recovery says the city is experiencing medical litter in some areas.

“To date we haven’t found it to be a major issue; however, we are concerned about the risk of improper disposal of gloves and masks,” Albert Shamess said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“When individuals do not take responsibility to dispose of their waste properly it puts others at risk.

“Littering personal waste (e.g. used gloves, masks, tissues, sanitary wipes) on the ground is also illegal and could result in a fine.”

A City of Calgary spokesperson told The Canadian Press in an email there has been an uptick in complaints and social media commentary about litter in parking lots and public spaces from improperly disposed gloves and masks.

The city says gloves and masks are not recyclable and should be bagged and disposed of as regular garbage.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusGarbage

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna Francophone school

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

In this file photo, snow is seen falling along the Coquihalla Highway. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Weather statement issued for Coquihalla, Hwy 3, as arctic front approaches

The early season snowfall expected to hit Fraser Valley, Friday, Oct. 23

BC Green Party candidate Amanda Poon (left) and BC Liberal Party candidate Renee Merrifield (right). (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Person who attended BC Liberal candidate’s Kelowna home event tests positive for COVID-19

Kelowna-Mission candidate Renee Merrifield has not exhibited any symptoms of the virus

Myra Canyon Halloween SCARE Park opens on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (Contributed)
Myra Canyon SCARE park returns this Halloween season

Opening night is this coming Friday, Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Curtis Sagmoen
Public warning issued to North Okanagan sex trade workers

RCMP warns workers to stay away from Salmon River Road area

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

Most Read