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Discarded gloves and masks pose a threat to Tampa Bay's waterways

Litter is already an issue, but now people are tossing used gloves and masks on the ground, too.

TAMPA, Fla. — Masks are required in schools and businesses across Tampa Bay to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some people go even further to protect themselves, donning plastic gloves to avoid touching anything that may be contaminated.

Now, what's being used as personal protection from the coronavirus is threatening the health of our environment in Tampa Bay. There's been an increase in personal protective equipment pollution, with used gloves and masks scattered in parking lots and dropped in the streets.

"Walking around, it doesn't take much time to see a discarded glove or mask," said Joe Whalen, Communication and Outreach at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Whalen says all of this PPE litter is detrimental to the health of Tampa's waterways.

"A lot of these pieces of equipment, depending on what they're made of may contain plastic and that contributes to a growing microplastics issue," said Whalen. Microplastics are already an issue in Tampa Bay. The harm is that microplastics have a negative effect on wildlife and native flora. Those negative effects can travel up the marine food web, in turn affecting humans. 

"It's not hard to imagine how a turtle may mistake a glove for a fish. Ingesting these materials takes up precious space in its digestive system, not allowing it to properly take in nutrients and often it then leads to the death of that animal," said Whalen.

Beach cleanup groups across the bay area have reported an incredible increase in the number of masks and plastic gloves they're plucking from the sand and water.

At a time when so many people are using the outdoors as an escape, people are also harming the environment they go out to enjoy when they improperly dispose of used masks or gloves. Consider investing in a reusable mask and refillable hand sanitizer containers over single-use products. Don't drop gloves or masks in an overflowing trash can or onto the ground. Bring a small container or bag to put your used PPE in so you can safely transport it home to dispose of.

RELATED: Florida reports fewer than 2,000 new COVID-19 for first time since mid-June amid drop in testing

RELATED: Face mask tips: How and when to wash your cloth face mask

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