Updated: Feb 28
How can you choose PPE that protects your employee base and also limits your environmental footprint and plastic pollution?
Using personal protective equipment, or PPE, is one of the necessary measures for ensuring workplace safety during Covid-19. At the same time, the increased use of PPE over the last months is polluting our oceans and has resulted in more environmental waste.
“It’s just another item of marine debris. It’s no better, no worse [than plastic bags or straws], just another item we’re leaving as a legacy to the next generation,” Gary Stokes of OceansAsia told The Guardian.
Organizations that provide face masks, gloves, or other types of PPE for the workplace also bear the responsibility of educating employees on the best way to use and dispose of their PPE.
Here’s how to create a more sustainable workplace.
#1. Choose certified reusable face masks
Many disposable PPE products such as medical face masks are at least partially made of plastic. Disposable plastic masks that end up in the sea could take up to 450 years to decompose and leave the marine ecosystem, according to Waste Free Oceans.
The easiest way to limit plastic pollution and the environmental impact of PPE is to opt for reusable face masks. Fabric face coverings can be washed and dried at home more than once, which prolongs their lifespan without compromising their efficacy.
The best quality reusable and washable face masks have high filtration against small particles, which makes them a safe option for workplace use. Choose products that are certified and fit the specific needs of your organization and industry.
#2. Purchase and use gloves mindfully
Gloves are another type of PPE that is widely available to the public. When used properly and changed frequently, they can add an extra layer of protection for businesses and professionals who are in close contact with customers.
However, health experts are clear about the importance of good personal hygiene. Gloves are not a substitute for regular hand washing, so organizations need to encourage this practice in the workplace while ensuring the disinfection of common areas.
In addition, some gloves used for Covid-19 protection include materials that are not biodegradable and require specific recycling methods.
Limiting the use of gloves to specific cases only will decrease the environmental impact and pollution from PPE generated by organizations.
#3. Dispose of all PPE properly
Organizations that supply their staff and visitors with different types of PPE will contribute to a safer work environment. However, it is just as important to make it easy for employees to properly dispose of used and expired PPE.
What do the experts recommend?
Consider adding separate containers for PPE disposal in the office. Having a separate PPE stream will remind staff and visitors to use these containers instead of throwing their masks or gloves in the wrong recycling bin.
It is also good practice to provide PPE training for employees and encourage them to take care and dispose of their personal face masks and gloves in the right way.
At the end of the day, there is a simple message that everyone can remember. “The message is really to throw your [PPE] in trash bins. It’s good for the environment – don’t throw it on the ground, otherwise, it ends up in the sea,” highlighted Laurent Lombard, Founder of Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea).