If you feel a hint of environmental blame on the masks or gloves you throw in the trash, you should instead buy or make reusable fabric options. Wash them regularly after use.
And if you need to use the disposable material, Kauffman's company TerraCycle offers a PPE zero waste box that essentially works like a waste paper basket for used safety and protective equipment. It comes with a prepaid return label. After filling the box with disposable gloves, dust masks, clothing, hair nets, beard nets, earplugs, and goggles, you can send them back to headquarters for processing. From there, "the collected waste is mechanically and / or manually separated into fibers and plastics," explains Kauffman. "The fibers, like paper or wood-based products, are recycled or composted. The plastics are extruded and pelletized to be shaped into new, recycled plastic products." It's a complicated and expensive process, so these boxes cost a pretty penny (a small one costs $ 148). To offset the cost, you should contact your local grocery store or retailer to see if they are considering storing one in their room for the entire community.
Unfortunately, contaminated PPE is not the only unsustainable by-product of COVID-19. With shops, bars, and restaurants still open for take-away service, we'll likely see more plastic packaging lying around first – many of which are for landfill. "An estimated 108 local governments have temporarily suspended roadside recycling in some form or other, although at least 41 have since been reopened," Porter says. When we come out of social isolation, we should make it more environmentally friendly by following local recycling rules, cleaning up after outdoor gatherings, and keeping things low-waste whenever possible.