Community members urge everyone to dispose of mask properly

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: Mike Dearden on Fort Myers Beach.

Masks come in all shapes and sizes — paper, cloth; you can match them to your outfits. While masks slow the spread of coronavirus, they’re creating another problem.

A community members who we spoke to Friday say it’s very common to see masks as litter in public. They want to urge community members to dispose of masks properly, not to become debris in public places.

“You don’t want the mask after you walk out the store? Throw it in the garbage can, not on the ground,” said Mike Dearden on Fort Myers Beach.

People wear masks to protect themselves and others during the pandemic. That’s a good thing, but the problem comes in when they get rid of them.

“It’s kind of saddening,” Mike Dearden said.

Dearden says he documents any signs of mask and glove litter he finds.

“I go to work. I cross the Matanzas Pass Bridge, and, just about every night, I see at least one mask thrown on the ground, Dearden said.

Dearden is not alone. FGCU professor James Douglass, with The Water School, says people need to be mindful of where their trash could end up.

“When I’ve been paddleboarding around the Imperial River in Bonita Springs, I’ve even seen masks and gloves floating down the river along with the other usual plastic waste,” Douglass said.

Douglass told us, because disposable PPE has plastic in it, “It’s not like a banana peel or something that’s going to rot away. It’s going to be there forever, causing harm to wildlife.”

Groups such as Keep Lee County Beautiful see the litter too.

“On my own morning walks or if we were out doing a small cleanup, we started to kind of document,” said Trish Francher, the executive director of Keep Lee County Beautiful. “And there’s definitely been an increase in the PPE gear, and we are noticing that it’s mostly around businesses.”

Robert Hawkes, the founder and director of the FGCU physician assistant program, recommends, if you do see trashed PPE, just play it safe.

“While the risk of transmission is low from spreading from COVID-19 from these objects, it’s best to leave them alone or, if people were to touch them, be sure you have gloves or use some type of tool to protect yourself,” Hawkes said.

While Keep Lee County Beautiful can’t do its big clean up events, the group says smaller clean ups have taken place and we all need to do our part.

“You don’t want the mask after you walk out the store?” Dearden said. “Throw it in the garbage can, not on the ground.”

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