“They’re everywhere,” exclaimed Ian Monahan, marketing manager with I Love a Clean San Diego. “People are discarding protective masks on the beaches, streets, along curbs, and sidewalks. And it’s not just a beach issue, we’re seeing a huge increase in PPE (personal protective equipment) litter countywide.”
It’s another by-product of the pandemic. More people might be wearing masks to protect themselves and others from transmitting coronavirus. But now more people are tossing those masks aside, leaving a trashy trail of litter on the ground.
“If people take the responsibility to wear a protective mask, why wouldn’t they take the responsibility to dispose of it properly?” wondered Monahan. “A disposable mask does not mean dispose of it on the ground.”
Monahan said he recently walked up from the beach and through several alleys in Pacific Beach. “In just a half-hour, I picked-up 30 masks that had been tossed on the ground. It’s become a larger litter problem than most people think.”
Those light blue, medical-style masks have become more accessible. But unfortunately, those coverings have become an environmental enigma. “Most people don’t realize those light blue masks are also made of plastic and plastic doesn’t go away. When a person litters those light blue masks, it’s like littering plastic grocery bags. It’s a huge burden on the environment.”
And even cloth masks, which are washable and reusable, are also being tossed along beaches, streets, and sidewalks. “We’d like to see people use and reuse cloth masks properly and be safe. But we also want to keep the environment safe.”
The I Love a Clean San Diego organization is holding its 36th annual Coastal Day Clean-up on Saturday, Sept. 26. Volunteers can now register to take part in the environmental event. And this year, Monahan said, one of the big enemies will be those discarded protective masks.
“We’ll be asking volunteers to keep tallies of how many littered masks they pick up, just like we tally cigarette butts. We want to get a snapshot of the widespread mask misuse.”
Monahan said the group will use that information to hopefully come up with an anti-littering mask campaign. He added, “To take action and to help out is the collective responsibility of us all.”
Another issue to tackle in this extraordinary year of 2020.
Anyone interested in volunteering for this year’s Coastal Clean-up Day can contact I Love a Clean San Diego at ilacsd.org or 619-291-0103.