Great, now the oceans are filling with COVID trash: Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer

Are oil companies the true heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic? That’s sure what they’d like you to think. In a recent flurry of “corporate reputation advertising” oil and gas companies, plus the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — an industry group that counts Chevron, Exxon, Citgo, and many others among its members — put out a series of Twitter ads arguing that, since oil and gas companies supply petroleum to manufacturers of face masks, hand sanitizer, and protective suits, they are helping keep the population safe and healthy.

There’s validity to the claim that single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) is helping keep people safe from coronavirus-carrying airborne droplets. But some environmental advocates worry that increased plastic production will come with its own unintended consequences.

Most obvious is an uptick in plastic pollution. Already the oceans are inundated with a flow of 13 million metric tons of plastic annually. Considering the vast amounts of PPE products that countries are now calling for in order to protect their citizens — demand for face masks alone numbers somewhere in the billions — it’s easy to see why people are concerned.

Around the world, environmental activists are finding gloves, masks, and empty bottles of hand sanitizer where they shouldn’t be.

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