Caru Cymru

A new type of litter is plaguing our streets

The COVID-19 response, involving lockdowns, social distancing measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), had considerable effects on the use of single-use plastic products.

Face masks in particular have been obligatory in many countries throughout the pandemic as they are considered instrumental in preventing the spread of the virus. Although gloves have not been mandatory, they have also been used extensively along with hand sanitisers and wet wipes.

Unfortunately, some of this material ends up in the local environment. This year, to understand more about the scale of PPE litter, we have collected information on the number of masks, gloves and other PPE littering our streets.

(Photo credit: Pentwyn Pickers)




How widespread is the problem?

Our latest street cleanliness surveys from across Wales show that PPE is a widespread issue.

  • Masks were recorded on 8% of streets – that’s approximately 10,666 litter masks
  • Gloves were recorded on 2.5% of streets
  • Wet wipes were found on 11% of streets.

Why is it a problem?

The majority of PPE is made up of plastics and is suspected to be a significant additional source of microplastics entering our environment.

Unfortunately, discarded PPE is also making its way into our rivers and our oceans, adding to the problem of marine litter and posing a danger to animals, birds and other wildlife.

Reusable face masks are now widely available, and an increasing number of businesses have developed innovative recycling schemes for both public PPE and for those used in medical settings.