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

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

Just Posted

Dawn Low is the first female CAO for the City of Revelstoke. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review file)
Armstrong welcomes new CAO

Dawn Low previously served as CAO in Revelstoke since 2019

18-year-old skier Logan Leach follows his guide, Julien Petit, down an alpine track. The Lumby athlete who is visually impaired has been named to Alpine Canada’s Ski Team ahead of the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. (Contributed)
Lumby’s Logan Leach named to national ski team

The 18-year-old visually impaired athlete officially joins Canada’s Para-Alpine roster ahead of Beijing 2022

Sovereign Lake Nordic Club is the first ski area in Canada to signify its commitment to ending working poverty, by paying all its staff and contracted workers a living wage. (Contributed)
Vernon ski area first in Canada to pay living wage

Sovereign Lake Nordic Club invests in staff and contracted workers

Fair-goers take a ride at the 120th annual Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2019. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)
Armstrong’s IPE not eligible for COVID-19 grant designed for major attractions

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo criticized the rigidity of the provincial program’s criteria

A young child has been taken to hospital after being struck by a vehicle on 30th Avenue in Vernon Friday, June 11, 2021. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Child struck by vehicle in downtown Vernon

The young child has been taken to hospital with unknown injuries following the incident on main street

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Denmark soccer player Christian Eriksen collapses during game against Finland

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read