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Thrown-out plastic masks, gloves from Covid-19 PPE polluting environment

Billions of disposable plastic gloves and masks are being used as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are concerns about whether the items are being disposed of properly.

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Ocean Conservancy's Nicholas Mallos estimates around 200 billion face masks and plastic gloves are used every month. Source: Breakfast

It's estimated almost 200 billion face masks and plastic gloves are used around the world every month during the pandemic.

A large amount is being disposed of poorly, ending up in the environment and ocean, according to Ocean Conservancy's Nicholas Mallos.

"I think any of us take a stroll down the street, to your park, on the beach, the likelihood that you're going to see some item of PPE is quite high and will continue to be high," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

Underwater video shows masks and gloves swept up in ocean currents, floating through the sea.

It poses a hazard to the world's wildlife, Mr Mallos says.

"We know things like gloves, when they enter the ocean, will likely behave like plastic bags or other food wrappers and these types of products are quite often eaten by sea turtles and other animals that mistake them for food," he says.

"And things like masks that have an elastic band on them, again will behave very similarly like other bands and trapping items that can entangle sea birds, can trap fish and sea turtles and other life."

He stresses that it's critical people use PPE, calling it an "absolute necessity".

But while it's often made of recyclable plastic, it can't be recycled due to its use in a medical capacity.

"This pandemic is underscoring just how vital proper waste collection and management is in communities around the world, while at the same time, making us pause and think about how much plastic waste we are making in the first place," he says.

"We both need to think about managing that fraction of the waste stream that's critical, while at the same time eliminating those products we can, to protect our environment and our ocean."

People should take the opportunity to "reflect on our global behaviour", Mr Mallos says, pointing to the plastic bag ban in New Zealand last year.

"[We should] think about what small tweaks we can make in our daily lives to again eliminate those products that are unnecessary, and properly using and disposing those items like PPE that provide us critical protection."