NEW YORK — Ask almost any New Yorker and chances are they've noticed streets, sewer drains and sidewalks littered with used protective masks and gloves.

What You Need To Know

  • Improperly discarded disposable masks and gloves are contributing to concerns about the environment and the effect on wildlife

  • A report found that roughly 1.5 billion face masks entered oceans around the world
  • A marine environmental group will instruct volunteers to document PPE during beach clean-ups

"What I see really on the train and on the streets, maybe it's falling from them accidentally, yeah I don't think anyone's going to just throw their mask in the street," said Lincoln Oliver, a passerby.

However they wind up as litter, there are growing concerns about single-use disposable masks and gloves are affecting the environment and wildlife. A report by OceansAsia estimates that as much as one and a half billion face masks wound up in oceans and waterways around the world last year.  

The New York Marine Rescue Center works to protect sea mammals, turtles and other marine life. The is organization unsure of what the long-term effects of improperly discarded PPE will be.

"We do know that we are seeing them on the beach, as well as on the street, coming out of supermarkets and stuff like that so there will be a risk," said Danielle Perillo, the group's Director of Administration & Development.

She said the volunteers that participate in their beach clean-ups will begin documenting any discarded PPE.

"There's a potential for them to go into the water and there's the potential for any of these animals to ingest or be entangled in them," said Perillo.

The recent report cited incidents like a fish found entangled in the ear loops of a face mask during a clean up in Miami, which is something Perillo hopes people will be more conscious of when dealing with PPE.

"Obviously proper disposal is the best. If you're on the beach and your mask happens to blow away, do your best to catch it as you would any other trash," said Perillo.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the city's drainage and waste systems keep 97% of litter from reaching local waterways, keeping that figure at pre-COVID-19 levels. But, some hope a little awareness about proper PPE disposal will go a long way for the environment and towards keeping the city clean.

"You should just throw it away, not throwing it on the ground and making it clog up the drains and making it look nasty," said Sterling Johnson, a passerby.