Masking Our Trash


For most of us, grocery shopping is about as much fun as unloading the dishwasher. We do it because it must be done but for me, well I’ve always kind of enjoyed it. There’s nothing like spacing out in the pasta aisle trying to decide between Penne or Rigatoni to a Musac version of Stairway to Heaven. But ever since Covid-19 hit, well it’s just not the same.

The last time I went, I hadn’t been grocery shopping in a couple weeks and I had no idea what to expect. Pulling into the parking lot, I passed a line of people, each one standing next to their own orange cone intentionally placed six feet apart. A clerk stood at the door waving customers in one at a time, and it reminded me of the line you see at a theme park outside The Tower of Terror. Everyone looked anxious, worried, but still a little bit excited.

I suddenly had no desire to join them but seeing we were out of coffee, there was no turning back. I parked and began to walk toward the line when I noticed little piles of blue, grey and white trash on the ground. As I got closer, I realized these weren’t your typical squashed tasting cups or cardboard coffee cozies. These were little balls of used latex gloves and paper medical masks discarded by shoppers. Quoting Eleanor from The Good Place all I could say was, “Are you forking kidding me?”

I guess this was bound to happen. Recently the CDC and our Administration flipped direction and decided regardless of whether you’re showing signs of Covid-19 or not, we should all be wearing masks in public. While this is probably a good idea to protect each other, these disposable masks and gloves are already wreaking havoc on our planet.

As for all the cloth masks being made by every home sewer and fashion designer, I’m kind of conflicted. I know this pandemic will be with us for a while, but I don’t see mask fashion as a sustainable business. To me, it’s the new fast fashion. Think about this for a minute. We’re making cheap, throw away items no one will want to be seen in a year from now. I’m just hoping we hang on to them longer than those black, mesh shorts… It’s a fact but, most fast fashion is only worn an average of three times. I wonder if these masks will have a longer life.

If I have to choose between mask options, the cloth masks for non-medical workers is definitely better than wearing the disposable ones I found strewn across the parking lot. Not only because the disposable ones are creating tons more trash…literally, but more importantly because all those tossed paper masks and gloves are creating hazardous waste. One study found that Covid-19 can linger on surgical masks for up to a week! Then there’s all those nasty latex gloves. Seeing the virus can linger on them for who knows how long, that parking lot was about as clean as the inside of a Red Medical Sharps Container.

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Before Covid-19 came along, the hospital industry was responsible for creating 5 to 9 million tons of trash per year. Studies show In Wuhan China alone hospitals created 44 tons of trash per day but after Covid-19 hit, that number went up to 270 tons… per… day! That’s six times the average!

We know what happens in Wuhan doesn’t stay in Wuhan. According to the Wall Street Journal, “As Coronavirus spreads across the U.S., the trash industry is girding for a potential rise in infectious waste while grappling with concerns about workers’ exposure to the pathogen.” Why are trash companies worried? What makes pitching those slimy gloves and paper masks different from regular trash? Because anything used to keep Covid-19 off and out of us, probably has plenty of nasty pathogens lurking all over it.

Hospitals know this.  “Until 1997, more than 90% of medical waste was incinerated, according to (the) EPA.” As in, hospitals used to burn their trash in their basements just to protect their employees and trash collectors from getting sick. That was until the EPA realized that burning trash wasn’t the best thing for our lungs. So they set some stringent standards that made it too expensive for hospitals to continue disposing of their trash that way.

Today instead of burning it, most hospitals use companies that sterilize their trash first before dumping it into landfills. Did you get that? Hospitals must clean their trash before throwing it into the dump and we’re not talking about a 20 second, happy birthday kind of cleaning here. We’re talking about a neutralizing-kind-of-frying-it-so-it-doesn’t-kill-anyone- kind of cleaning.

Yet another reason to feel completely disgusted while walking thru that parking lot. I envisioned some exhausted, unsuspecting, grocery store clerk being ordered to pick up all that trash, and then what? To pitch all those nasty, Covid-19 filled masks and gloves into a bin where another unsuspecting trash collector will be exposed to them. I hate to tell you, but your used gloves and masks are about as clean as a used tissue. Would you want your kid or loved one picking hundreds of those things up during their ten-hour shift at work?

Once again, we humans just can’t get it right. We go for the quick fix, the fast and easier way to protect ourselves instead of the smart, long term solution. Hey, I know we must cover up our mouths and noses and protect our hands from cooties but can we try to go about this the right way?

Please know I’m not saying we shouldn’t wear masks or face coverings but if you aren’t in the medical field and you don’t need an N95 or paper surgical mask, please wear a cloth, washable one. Yeah, it isn’t the perfect solution but for now, I’d rather see people wearing reusable gear than the disposable stuff that only causes more problems. Hospital employees have a place to correctly dispose of their gear after their shifts but shoppers ripping off their face masks and gloves in the grocery store parking lot are leaving it there for someone else to pick it up. That’s not only disgusting but it kind of defeats the purpose for wearing a mask and gloves in the first place.

Discarded Disposable Blue Latex Glove Coronavirus Washington Post Ricardo Arduengo:AFP:Getty Images 2.png

Speaking of gloves, stop wearing them to the grocery store or out in public. According to the World Health Organization, “Regularly washing your bare hands offers more protection against catching Covid-19 than wearing rubber gloves.” Hey you’re not performing Neurosurgery here. You’re either shopping, walking around contemplating pasta options or both so there’s no need for them. Most stores have hand sanitizer at the exits for you to use when leaving so take a pump and use it when you get into your car. Then, as soon as you return home wash your hands. Those gloves are tough to remove anyway and there’s a higher chance of infecting yourself just by taking them off. Plus not using them is one more way to cut back on all the trash this pandemic is causing.

Listen, I know we all want to do something to help right now. I really appreciate people doing all they can to contain this virus but let’s think about what happens to the gear we’re using and where it goes when we’re done with it.

This is our moment to change and repair, not to create more harm than good.

– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer

Let ME know:

How are you staying green during COVID-19?

Please share your own thoughts with us – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!

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