With politicians expected to pass laws paving the way for compulsory mask-wearing in public places tomorrow, Express is urging islanders to ensure PPE littering doesn’t become the next ‘pandemic’ after finding hundreds of examples strewn across the island.
Not only have masks and disposable gloves been spotted near bus stops and in town, but also along green lanes, and areas of natural beauty like cliff paths and beaches since the beginning of lockdown.
But the problem could be about to get much worse once plans for masks to become a legal requirement for people aged 12 and over - and fines for those who refuse to wear them in certain places - come into force.
Pictured: A mask in St. Ouen's Bay.
Face coverings are already obligatory on buses, but are expected to also be made compulsory in shops, banks, post offices and other public buildings.
Plastic Free Jersey fears the subsequent rise in PPE use will go hand-in-hand with a rise in littering.
PPE littering carries a double risk: if action isn’t taken, masks and gloves washed down local drains threaten to pollute the the ocean with micro-plastics, and do more direct damage to local wildlife onshore if consumed.
It also poses a health risk to those who pick it up.
The growing tide of PPE equally threatens to undo some of the island’s progress towards attaining ‘Plastic Free Coastline’ status - an initiative the Government signed up to alongside Surfers Against Sewage two years ago.
Video: A seagull flies off with a reusable black mask found at a bus stop in its beak.
Express is therefore calling islanders to be mindful mask-wearers and ensure that they carefully dispose of their PPE to avoid a ‘second pandemic’.
Plastic Free Jersey and Environment Ministers past and present have all given their enthusiastic backing to the campaign.
“I welcome it,” Environment Minister Deputy John Young said. “What nobody wants is to have these thrown away, littered in the street and so on because obviously they do include plastics. It will degrade, it will break up – we’ve got enough problems in the island with micro-plastics in our environment, in our waters, washed into the sea. People shouldn’t be throwing them on the floor, they should be put in the bins provided. That’s the safest thing.”
Assistant Environment Minister Deputy Gregory Guida commented: “It’s an excellent initiative. People tend to forget that those masks are made almost exclusively of plastic and we tend not to throw away plastic in the environment… It will last 100 years, decompose. It’s a very serious issue and I applaud you for tackling it.”
Former Environment Minister Deputy Steve Luce also expressed his support, questioning whether there could be better disposal facilities on buses or near bus stops - one of the most common areas Express found masks littered.
Pictured: Many masks were left within metres or mere centimetres of bins.
"If people are going to the trouble to get masks out and wear them, they should also be responsible and dispose of them properly,” he said.
“Especially on buses where everybody has to wear a mask on a bus. If they haven’t got a convenient pocket or bag or bin nearby, unfortunately there are still some people who won’t worry about dropping it on the floor, which is sad because we live on a beautiful island and we want to keep it beautiful.
“Don’t expect other people to pick it up, please try and take care of it yourself.”
International Development Minister Deputy Carolyn Labey - a keen defender of Jersey’s public realm - also gave her support to the campaign, saying it was important for islanders to play their part in keeping the island an attractive place to live.
Supporting the campaign, Plastic Free Jersey’s Sheena Brockie explained that the group had been finding masks “in really random places, like car parks near cliff paths, and on the beaches now.”
Pictured: Waste-free campaigner, Plastic Free Jersey's Sheena Brockie, is supporting the campaign.
“At the beginning of the pandemic when we were all wearing them and everyone was panicking, we found so many. If we get this legislation to make it compulsory, my worry is that we’ll go back to more and more disposables and we’ll have a bigger issue than we had,” she explained.
“All the drains in Jersey, the surface drains, they all go back to the ocean with no filter. So if masks are dropped in the street – it’s not just those dropped in coastal locations – that will go into the ocean with no filter, no way of catching it.
“Even if it’s blown out of a bin, if it’s not put securely, or if it’s dropped out of your hand or you purposefully drop it, it will go down the nearest drain and straight to the ocean.”
She added that such littering was particularly problematic for islanders, like herself, who normally engage in beach cleans and other litter-picking projects, as well as waste disposal workers, due to the health risks involved.
Pictured: PPE in drains will ultimately end up in the ocean.
"I don’t normally carry gloves with me all the time so if I’m walking into town I wouldn’t pick it up and put it in the bin because I wouldn’t want to expose myself to potential covid.
“That piece of PPE is likely to go down the drain and straight to the ocean where it will cause havoc.”
She therefore urged islanders to opt for reusable cloth masks as an alternative.
Pictured: Environment Ministers present and past, Deputies John Young and Steve Luce, backed the initiative.
Sheena continued: “For me, the key thing is that whilst we might need to wear the masks, there’s no need for them to be single-use and there’s an impact if we just use single use when we don’t have to…
"We need to be making sure that we have more than one and that we’re washing them in enough time to make sure we’re not harbouring any covid on them. So if you are wearing a reusable, make sure that you’re changing them frequently, washing them to make sure you keep yourself safe."
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