Increased personal protective equipment litter as a result of COVID-19 measures

Keiron Roberts, Sui Phang, John Williams, David Hutchinson, Simon Kolstoe, Jasper de Bie, Ian D. Williams, Anne M. Stringfellow

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Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) increased during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce virus transmission. Here, we quantitatively analyse emergence of PPE and COVID-19-related litter over 14 months for 11 countries using the litter collection application Litterati. The proportion of masks in litter increased by >80-fold as a result of COVID-19 legislation, from <0.01% to >0.8%. Gloves and wipes, more prevalent at ~0.2% of litter before the pandemic, doubled to 0.4%, but this has since fallen. Glove litter increased in the initial stages of the pandemic but fell after the introduction of facemask policies, whereupon there was an increase of facemask litter. National COVID-19 policy responses and international World Health Organization announcements and recommendations are a probable driver of PPE litter dynamics, especially the implementation of facemask policies. Waste management should be incorporated in designing future pandemic policies to avoid negative environmental legacies of mismanaged PPE.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalNature Sustainability
Early online date9 Dec 2021
Publication statusEarly online - 9 Dec 2021


  • Covid-19
  • pandemic
  • mask
  • glove
  • litter
  • environmental impact
  • behaviour
  • citizen science
  • global
  • legislation
  • policy
  • World Health Organization
  • government


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