Hygiene practices have never been more front and centre than they are right now, as we battle COVID-19 armed with not much more than good hand hygiene and social distancing in the fight against this novel coronavirus.
This increased focus on hygiene has led to a huge increase in the use of latex gloves and surgical masks by members of the public over the last 4 months, which in turn has led to increasing numbers of reports on the negative environmental impact of these items. Surgical gloves and masks are winding up on beaches and in the ocean, to add to the already massive plastic pollution problem we have in our seas.
This image shows a conservationist in the Soko Islands (a few miles off Hong Kong) holding up masks that have been washed up onto the uninhabited islands. He found over 100 in the course of three visits to the beach.
So, keeping in mind that there is no point in staying healthy if we don't have a planet on which to enjoy our health, here are my top 3 tips for remaining hygienic AND environmentally friendly in these trying times.
1. Don’t wear disposable gloves:
Gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are critical for healthcare workers on the front lines of fighting the pandemic - but they’re also widely used by the public. But because the public doesn't always know how to dispose of these items properly (used surgical gloves and masks are actually classed as medical waste and healthcare workers are trained to dispose of medical waste correctly) environmentalists fear there will be negative consequences for wildlife and the fight against plastic pollution.
So unless you are a healthcare worker, forego the surgical gloves and masks entirely. Rather wear a reusable, washable cloth mask and concentrate on washing and drying your hands regularly and properly. If you still aren’t convinced, read our articles on Gloves on, Gloves off and 10 things you absolutely need to know about wearing a mask.
2. Don’t leave the tap running:
It wasn’t that long ago that the Western Cape was in the grip of the worst drought we’ve had in over a 100 years, and that how to save water and Day Zero were all anyone in the Western Cape was talking about. Washing one’s hands with soap and water was out of the question and hand sanitiser was all that was available, whether you liked it or not.
Now that we are all on lockdown and COVID-19 is all we’re talking about (or trying not to talk about) make sure that you haven’t gone back to water wasting ways. I was rather alarmed to see that in the WHO video on how to wash your hands correctly the demonstrator leaves the tap running for the duration of the demonstration! I found myself getting quite anxious as the water ran down the plug hole unchecked while she thoroughly washed her hands with soap.
We absolutely want you to wash your hands THOROUGHLY and often, but there is no need to leave the tap on while you are doing it. It’s concerning to note that in the Western Cape’s May 2020 report on dam levels, the Overall Water Usage Trend is slowly ticking upwards again, after all the water saving efforts of 2018.
In order to save water, always shut the tap while lathering your hands with soap. After wetting your hands initially, shut the tap with a tissue. Rub all parts of the hands as instructed in the WHO video, and then reopen the tap for rinsing hands. Initial’s Signature bio-enzyme soap is kinder to hands and the environment - read more about why that is in this blog piece: 5 reasons we love bio-enzyme soap.
3. Recycle, recycle, recycle!
Sadly, just about everything we buy these days is packaged in some kind of plastic, and sanitizer, disinfectants and cleaning products are no exception. Brian Epstein, the Operations Divisional Director for Dischem said that sales of hand sanitisers and face masks had increased exponentially since South Africa reported their first case of coronavirus. All those 100ml bottles of hand sanitiser that you bought for the car, your handbag, the desk… those bottles are going to end up in a landfill somewhere if you don't make a conscious effort to recycle them.
Whilst the time plastic takes to decompose is dependent on the state of the landfill, it is estimated that plastic bottles take around 450 years to decompose.
With lockdown easing to a level 4 - and hopefully level 3 soon - the municipal dumps are opening up for recycling again. Do the planet a favour and make sure that you recycle wherever possible. For more information on why/how we should recycle, read our Ask the Expert post with WastePlan sales expert, Herman Steenkamp.