COVID-19 Cleanup Considerations

COVID-19 Cleanup Considerations

We know that this is still an uncertain time and that COVID-19 is impacting pretty much every aspect of our lives. This blog will be focusing on how COVID-19 links to the global plastic problem and cleanup considerations in particular. This obviously in no way detracts from the other heartbreaking impacts of this pandemic and other recent global events!

With World Cleanup Day just around the corner (19th Sept) we felt it important to discuss some COVID-19 cleanup considerations to help you run safe and effective cleanups during this time.

COVID-19 & the plastic problem

2020 has certainly been a mixed bag in terms of the natural environment. Global lockdowns had quite a positive impact in terms of lowering gas emissions and allowing animals to thrive without human interference. It is believed that these lockdowns were instrumental in extending earth overshoot day by 3 weeks compared to 2019. Earth overshoot day is the day each year when our demand for resources exceed what the earth can produce that year. This day has been getting earlier each year up until now.

Earth Overshoot day graph for last 50 years
Earth Overshoot Day has been getting earlier every year until this year. Image Credit : UMEA University

However, it seems the PPE we all need to use is causing the next global plastic problem …

Plastic during the pandemic

Regardless of the general increase in plastic usage during the pandemic, single use gloves and masks are now littering our streets, waterways and oceans. All over the world masks and gloves are washing up on our beaches at an unprecedented rate. This discarded PPE poses a threat to wildlife who mistake it for food or get tangled up. Also, who wants to be swimming around with other peoples used PPE!?

Discarded PPE in the ocean
Soon there may be more masks than jellyfish in the ocean. Credit : @operation.mer.propre

Apparently we use around 194 billion disposable masks and gloves a month. That is an absolutely huge amount of single use plastic!!! We completely understand that PPE is important, but especially when they are not correctly disposed of they are having a negative impact on our environment and wildlife.

Even if disposed of correctly, as they are classed a medical waste they cannot be recycled so will most likely end up in landfill. Where at all possible please avoid single use plastic PPE. Go for reusable masks (washing it regularly) and washing hands with soap instead. According to guidance both are just as, if not more effective than plastic options.

Cleanup considerations

With many cleanups being cancelled or restricted due to covid precautions and with the increase in general plastic usage during this time, it is more important than ever to get involved this World Cleanup Day. To that end please see below for some things to keep in mind while conducting cleanups during this time.

Things to remember for cleanups during COVID-19 times:

  • Always wear masks
  • Keep a social distance
  • Organise handing out equipment so that there isn’t a crowd around the bags / gloves etc.
  • Wear gloves during the cleanup (highly recommended anyway)
  • Wash hands immediately afterwards
  • Avoid using cleanup tongs and other equipment which might not be cleaned between uses
  • Take a group picture with social distancing in mind or pictures of the cleanup activities instead

Please always check and adhere to all government guidelines / restrictions in your area.

As we like to say ‘It all starts with you’, so a solo cleanup could also be a great way to get involved and cleanup your local area if that works best for you!

Let us know if you have any questions or would like any help organising a cleanup on World Cleanup Day (19th Sept). Our blog also has some great resources for organising and running cleanups for you.

If you’re planning to cleanup for World Cleanup Day please let us know and keep us updated on how it goes! Above all Be Safe!


Environmental Science & Technology

UMEA University

Share this post:

Join the


Subscribe to receive:

Weekly news in sustainability and ocean topics plus exclusive interviews 

Cleanup updates and ways you can actively help the oceans

We will not sell your e-mail address. Ever.