New kind of litter

  • photo courtesy of Carl Berg/ Surfrider Foundation

    A lone glove represents some of the PPE litter being found on Kaua‘i, and elsewhere.

  • photo courtesy of Carl Berg/ Surfrider Foundation

    This photo shows PPE litter on Kaua‘i shorelines.

LIHU‘E — Gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment are starting to accumulate on Kaua‘i shorelines, as well as places around the world, and Surfrider Foundation’s local Hawai‘i chapters are joining the nationwide organization in a campaign to bring awareness to the fact that discarded PPE is adding to the plastic pollution on the world’s shorelines.

Federal and state governments are advising citizens to wear masks in public, and as people endeavor to protect themselves against the COVID-19 coronavirus, many aren’t properly disposing of PPE. Once in coastal ecosystems, PPE can be mistaken as food by seabirds, turtles and marine mammals, putting them at risk of severe injuries and death, Surfrider said in a Thursday news release. These items may be carrying viruses and pathogens that could potentially spread infection.

On Kaua‘i Carl Berg of the Kaua‘i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation said he and other volunteers are finding evidence of PPE litter on shorelines, as has been reported elsewhere.

“It is really easy to find lots of gloves and wipes at our Home Depot, Safeway, Costco etc. as people wipe the carts handles then drop the wipe,” Berg said in an email Thursday. “They also drop the gloves when they finish loading the cars. As we go back to the beaches we will find more.”

He continued: “Millions of pounds of plastic pollution wash ashore Hawai‘i beaches each year. This campaign is aimed at reducing the environmental and public health impacts of improperly discarded PPE.”

The main meat of the campaign is to educate the public on Centers for Disease Control guidelines of how to properly dispose of PPE, with a heavy emphasis on choosing and cleaning reusuable PPE equipment, like cloth masks.

“Proper disposal of single-use PPE and making the switch to reusable items can aid in solving the ever-rising plastic pollution issue. Littering PPE and any other items is illegal and considered a criminal offense,” Surfrider said in their Thursday news release.

Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Chapters suggests using reusable cloth masks and continuing to use (and wash) reusable shopping bags when permitted by shopping establishments. Sanitizing of reusable masks and bags should follow CDC guidelines. Surfrider Foundation Hawaii also notes that PPE, including sanitizing wipes, should never be flushed down the drain.

Residents who want to be part of the awareness campaign and help spread the message of responsible PPE disposal and use can join by posting photos of any PPE debris spotted along waterways and beaches and tag#HawaiiPPEdebris to help spread awareness.

  1. Ken Conklin May 8, 2020 4:09 am Reply

    So gloves, masks, and other PPE are littering the shoreline and are dangerous to birds, fish, and turtles who see them as food. The Surfrider Foundation and other environmentalists are complaining.

    Well then, I guess we must pass a law to ban gloves, masks, and other PPE, to save the environment and protect wildlife. Right?

    Wrong. What’s crazy is that we passed laws banning plastic bags, plastic plates, plastic straws, and plastic knives and forks for the same reason — protect the wildlife and environment.

    Let’s use the coronavirus crisis as a wakeup call to realize that human beings are more important than animals, and even more important than having a pretty shoreline. Let’s un-ban plastic bags, plastic plates, plastic straws, and plastic knives and forks. Grocery stores are already wishing they could give out single-use plastic bags again — they are banning fabric reusable bags that customers bring, because the fabric bags are often not washed after every use, and could spread the virus.

    1. Connie May 8, 2020 11:02 am Reply

      This should be a wake up call for humans to behave responsibly and put trash where it belongs. The planet is not a trash can. All life is important.

    2. Lydia July 31, 2020 12:17 am Reply

      Humans are not more important than animals. All life is part of a wider system. Human existence relies on healthy ecosystems, which are all finely tuned – each part playing a function, like the organs in your body. To take a purely human-centric approach – biodiversity is the variety of plants and animals on earth – diminished biodiversity equals unhealthy ecosystems equals no life support system for humans. Where do you think our medicines come from? Where do you think our clean air and oxygen comes from? Where do you think our food comes from? Healthy, functioning ecosystems. Furthermore, going back to the origins of Covid-19, this is a direct result of humans exploiting the natural world – keeping animals in unnatural conditions, which create the perfect breeding ground for pathogens and microorganisms to mutate and spread to humans. Animals that throughout our evolution we have had no course to interact with before and therefore, have no immunity to the kinds of viruses they may carry. But now, as appetites for novel meats and delicacies increase and as we cut down forest habitats to graze cattle for slaughter, we are exposing ourselves to even greater risks and more pandemics. Additionally, of course we should be reducing plastic pollution as much as possible! Plastics never really degrade, only break down into micro-plastics and eventually enter the food chain. Furthermore, as polymers break down they release ‘persistent organic pollutants’ – these are toxic chemicals which accumulate in the environment – many of which are cancer-causing and capable of endocrine disruption, which affects reproduction in humans and animals, and they can damage the immune system and nervous system. Can you not see that by protecting nature, by limiting the damage we do to our environment, we are also protecting ourselves? If you’re still not convinced, I’d recommend watching this animation on ecosystem services:

  2. Ron Davis May 8, 2020 6:25 am Reply

    We see this litter here in Kentucky and all other states as well, but I’m surprised to see that it is a probled it and minimizing trash.

    I alway enjoy the cleanliness of the island and try to do my part personally and properly disposing of trash when I find in on the ground at the beach and other places.

    Please people, dispose of you PPE proberly; there is the health of others at stake besides being ugly.

  3. Kauaidoug May 8, 2020 8:10 am Reply

    Can’t blame the tourists for this one.

    1. Doug May 9, 2020 10:04 am Reply

      I’m sure they will find a way to blame the tourists, because as you know it’s never the locals! Just check out the area next to the ponds at Lydgate after an event when someone’s party tent has been removed…….whomever supplies the tent is just cutting the plastic ties when they take the tent down and leaving the ties on the grass. I don’t know how many I have picked up there. Shameful way to treat our island!!!

  4. Uncleaina May 8, 2020 9:25 am Reply

    Love Surfrider but hopefully they will realize that there’s a new normal now and things like disposable plastics and PPE are required during a pandemic. And even though Kauai has no cases, that’s likely to change once we start allowing tourists in. Probably need to put these priorities on the back burner for a little while.

    1. Connie May 8, 2020 11:04 am Reply

      People can dispose of these items properly. There is no excuse for litter of any kind!

  5. douglas henry May 8, 2020 9:27 am Reply


  6. KoloaNani May 8, 2020 3:58 pm Reply

    Locals are doing this, stop it. Show some respect, such shame.

  7. andy May 8, 2020 9:42 pm Reply

    Hey Ken Conklin,
    Is your comment even serious? Litter is litter, trash is trash, doesn’t matter what it is. I’m still trying to figure out if your comment is for real or if you are just trolling for a reaction which seems to be a small-minded trend these days.

    I’ve been picking up other people’s trash on Kauai for over 40 years now and it has RARELY been left by tourists. How do I know this? Because tourists don’t leave used diapers, bento boxes, fishing tackle, car parts, household trash, beer bottles, and cigarette butts in locations that are basically ONLY known and frequented by Kauai residents, and in some cases only accessible by four-wheel-drive. Most of the folks who live here would never throw their trash on a local beach or anywhere else, but there is, unfortunately, that small percentage that have brains the size of macadamia nuts and have no concept of what “malama aina” means. I guess, judging by his comment, that Ken Conklin would be a perfect example of that.

    1. Nansea Shor June 25, 2020 8:33 am Reply

      Omigosh, ANDY!! THANK YOU!! I couldn’t have said it better and couldn’t agree more!!!. .May we have love and Irespect and gratitude for ALL BEINGS on our beautiful ISLAND and everywhere!

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