Single-use plastic gloves seem like a good idea during coronavirus, but here’s the problem

(NEW YORK) — People around the world are taking precautions to keep germs at bay amid the coronavirus pandemic, like wearing disposable gloves or masks in public, but the temporary solution could lead to another problem: litter.

PWD crews are working very hard during this difficult time, but we need @CityOfBoston residents to help. We continue to find discarded rubber gloves and masks on our sidewalks and streets.

Please be respectful of your neighbors and dispose of your trash properly. Don’t litter!

— Boston Public Works (@BostonPWD) April 1, 2020

News feeds online have filled up with photos of used personal protective equipment strewn about on sidewalks, streets and other public areas.

If using plastic gloves when out in public or when shopping it is essential to dispose of them properly.

Please dispose of these gloves in the nearest bin or bring them home with you and dispose of them in the general waste bin. Littering is never acceptable.


— Galway City Council (@GalwayCityCo) April 6, 2020

And beyond the obvious environmental impact, there’s a larger concern that the once-worn items have touched contaminated surfaces and could pose a biohazard threat for those who eventually clean them up.

“Gloves protect you against contact with infectious materials. However, once contaminated, gloves can become a means for spreading infectious materials to yourself, other patients or environmental surfaces,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its PPE guidance.

As we continue to wear disposable gloves and masks to protect ourselves, please remember to properly dispose of used protective equipment in the trash bin. Improper disposal could lead to exposure to biohazards. For more information, visit

— OC Waste & Recycling (@ocwaste) April 7, 2020

City officials and health experts have called out the litter bugs in their respective areas and urged people to do better.

There’s no shortage of #PPE litter in Columbia Heights. Please do better, neighbors. ⁦

— Stacey (@sas509) March 31, 2020

The CDC has recommended gloves as a temporary barrier while cleaning and disinfecting, going in public for essentials, but also calls for proper disposal of them.

Stop the spread of #COVID19 while working from home. Clean & then disinfect surfaces such as tables, desks, phones, tablets, & keyboards. For electronic devices, follow manufacturer instructions or use alcohol-based sprays containing at least 70% alcohol.

— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@CDCDirector) April 6, 2020

The World Health Organization has said people are better off washing and sanitizing their hands than using plastic gloves because bacteria and germs that stick to gloves could be spread to another person.

For anyone who does wear gloves in public, the safest practice is to remove them and dispose of them in a plastic-lined garbage bin that can be tied shut and be tossed out properly. If someone’s in public and can’t find a proper trash bin, they should take the PPE home and dispose of it in a sealed garbage can.

Be careful if you’re thinking about sanitizing your gloves. You may be reducing their effectiveness, depending on the chemicals used. There are lots of charts online that tell you what your specific type of gloves will be effective against.

— Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) April 5, 2020

After discarding PPE, individuals are advised to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

This is becoming a very frequent sight.

Disposable gloves discarded on footpaths, in shopping baskets and on top of bins.

Littering is always disgusting but now even more so it’s a total hazard.

Someone else has to pick these up, please dispose of them correctly

— James Browne TD (@JamesBrowneTD) April 6, 2020

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