By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of face masks hanging

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, but we can still find ways to live more sustainably during these difficult times. The Resource will publish a series of articles this summer focused on helping you do just that. This month we want to talk about some of the single-use items commonly used during the pandemic and suggest some safe alternatives.

Masks

  • Wearing a mask outside of your home helps protect others and prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can reduce waste by choosing reusable (washable) cloth masks over disposable ones. A wide variety of reusable masks are available online, or you may know someone who makes them. You can even make your own mask using leftover fabric or repurposed clothing or linens. Wherever you get your mask, make sure you follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • If you need to wear a disposable mask, put it in the trash after use. Disposable masks do not belong in the recycling, down the toilet or on the ground.

Gloves

Photo of someone scrubbing a counter while wearing gloves
  • According to the CDC, you should wear reusable or disposable gloves for routine cleaning and disinfection. If you choose reusable, the CDC states that those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and nothing else. The CDC also recommends wearing disposable gloves when you are caring for someone who is sick or cleaning a home where someone is sick. Otherwise, wearing gloves is not necessary in most situations. Instead, practice frequent handwashing, social distancing and other everyday preventive actions recommended by the CDC.

  • Put disposable gloves in the trash, not the recycling. Don’t flush or litter your gloves, either. Help us get the message out by sharing our Facebook post about the increase of litter related to the pandemic.

Wipes

  • The use of disposable wipes is on the rise. Remember: Wipes clog pipes and can cause sewage backups and overflows. Do not flush any kind of wipe or towelette, even the ones that are labeled as, “flushable.” Do not litter or try to recycle wipes. Place used wipes in a trash can. Help spread the word about wipes by sharing our social media graphic.

  • You can reduce “wipe waste” by cleaning or disinfecting your home with an EPA-registered disinfectant and reusable, washable cloths instead of disposable wipes.

  • Clean your face with soap and water using a washcloth or your hands instead of facial wipes.

  • Use good old fashioned toilet paper instead of wipes labeled, “flushable.” Keep germs inside your toilet by putting down the lid before you flush!

  • Did I already say not to flush wipes? I did? Okay, good; because it’s really important that you don’t. Here’s why.

Shopping Bags

  • Use washable (reusable) shopping bags if permitted by the store. Make sure to check with the store first. Washable shopping bags can be found online, or you can make your own with materials you may have around the house. If you are able to use reusable bags at your local store, don’t forget to wash your bags following the CDC guidelines for washing clothing, linens and other laundered items.

  • Some grocery stores and retailers have temporarily ceased recycling plastic bags. If you wish to drop off your plastic shopping bags for recycling, your best course of action is to 1) enter your address in the recycle search tool at abagslife.com or plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a drop-off location at a retailer near you and 2) call that location first to confirm that they are currently accepting plastic bags for recycling.

Other single-use items you can try to avoid include individually wrapped snacks, single serving beverages and disposable kitchenware, tableware, towels and napkins.

We hope these tips will help you safely reduce your use of single-use items during the coronavirus pandemic and keep you on track in your efforts to make ours a cleaner, greener Baltimore County. Be sure to keep an eye out for next month's installment of our Staying Green During COVID-19 series, which will more broadly address trash, recycling, litter and waste prevention.