World Conservation Day: COVID-19 Waste Washes up on Coastlines


Face covering on beach

World Nature Conservation Day is celebrated every year on the 28th of July. It’s purpose to increase awareness about sustainable practices to protect our natural resources. These resources include air, minerals, plants, soil, water, and conserving wildlife through maintaining the diversity of species, genes, ecosystems, and environment. World Nature Conservation Day recognizes that a healthy and sustainable environment is the foundation for a productive and stable society.

According to Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s annual 2020 report, over 41,000 kilograms of litter was removed by volunteers of the program. The organization didn’t have a category on its feedback forms for the volunteers in 2020 but because many volunteers found masks and other COVID personal protective equipment during their cleanups, it will be added to the 2021 surveys. This has been confirmed to be added to the data survey as members of the company went to lead a shore clean up event earlier this month.

“For the first time in our history, many of our volunteers noted that they found masks and other personal protective

equipment (PPE).” – Shorelinecleanup

Personal protective equipment (such as masks, gloves, shields, gowns) and single-use food packaging have been vital to promoting public safety during COVID and most likely will continue to be used in the foreseeable future.

One industry that has seen a huge increase in single-use personal protective equipment is the healthcare industry. Much of the medical equipment used by hospitals and health clinics during this pandemic is single-use, which burdens disposal sites with empty vials from vaccinations, needles, gloves, and single-use masks.

Disposal of medical waste is neither cost-effective, nor sustainable. Cost and safety are definitely key factors to why healthcare workers use single-use PPE. Some hospitals have been using decontamination systems, which use hydrogen peroxide vapour and UV light, to sterilize masks for reuse. A recent MIT study, which analyzed the costs of mask use, found that adapting low-cost, simple technologies to enable respirator reuse would definitely decrease the number of respirators used, costs, and waste generated compared to disposable respirators.

As a company in the waste sector, we have definitely noticed a significant increase in the volume of single-use plastics during the pandemic. Currently most PPE can not be recycled through conventional recycling facilities and hence they must be disposed of. As a society, we need to design or implement more facilities that can recycle these products and curb the waste generated.

In the meanwhile, we have outlined two ways how you can help curb PPE waste.

Use reusable face masks.

Stack of reusable face coverings

This sounds easy enough. Using reusable face masks would curb the overall amount that end up in landfills or on our shorelines. The more important factor to this is knowing the best practices in removing, cleaning and storing the reusable face coverings that you do use.


  1. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Remove the mask by removing the loops from your ears while avoiding touching the front of the mask.
  3. Store the mask in a paper bag, or something that doesn’t retain moisture.
  4. After removing the face mask, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands again.


Reusable cloth masks should be rotated or cleaned if they become dirty or damp.

Health Canada advises:

  1. Washing the cloth mask by putting it directly into the washing machine, using a hot cycle, and then drying it thoroughly;
  2. Washing it thoroughly by hand using soap and hot water and then drying it completely before wearing


When a face covering is not needed don’t keep the mask under your chin. It poses a risk that droplets or germs on the outside of the mask may come into contact with your chin and lower lip. Have a designated paper bag, envelope, or something that won’t retain moisture ready to place your mask inside. Plastic bags aren’t recommended because it keeps moisture in, which could allow bacterial growth.

It’s important to remember the following when using non-medical masks:

  • never share your mask with someone else
  • don’t handle a mask belonging to someone else
  • don’t allow other people to handle or touch your mask
  • masks with an exhalation valve don’t protect others

Help Clean up your Community

Go on an adventure in your community and help clean up the litter and waste. Make sure that if you are picking up a PPE that you do so with protective measures; either thro ugh wearing gloves or better yet with a trash picking tool. Handling of PPE could be hazardous so make sure you take the steps to protect yourself.

There are many groups out there that provide easy event managing for cleanup such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup we mentioned earlier. We’ve planned and participated in one of the cleanups through their website and they make it easy to setup and get people involved. We will definitely be going on another cleanup through them.