Our new normal, the novel coronavirus pandemic, has caused society to take up more rigorous hygiene regimens. Unfortunately, personal protective equipment like masks and gloves quickly become contaminated, and they shouldn’t be tossed carelessly — especially not littered in parking lots, where they are destined to end up harming the environment. Because the pathogen causing COVID-19 can survive for hours or even days on different surfaces, observing appropriate disposal protocol is crucial. So, here are some recommendations, which are both safer for public health and better for our planet, on what to do with used gloves, masks, disinfectants, wipes, paper towels and more.

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blue and black latex gloves littered in a parking lot


Those who venture out shopping for essentials during this pandemic are often sporting disposable gloves. But wearing the same gloves from place to place or using your phone while wearing gloves just spreads germs. It’s important to regularly change gloves if you are wearing them.

Wondering about proper methods to remove contaminated gloves from your hands? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an illustrative tutorial page.

After safely removing your gloves, you can dispose of them in a trash can. Do not be the person that throws them on the ground! Of course, the Waste Advantage Magazine recommends bagging used gloves before throwing them away for safe disposal. Some gloves can normally be recycled, but during the pandemic, it is best to throw gloves away to keep everyone safe. To reduce waste, you can also simply wash your hands with hot, soapy water after running an errand. If you visit multiple stores, wash your hands after each one.

several blue paper masks on wood table


Another prevalent countermeasure against COVID-19’s spread is wearing masks, for which the World Health Organization (WHO) offers downloadable tutorials. WHO recommends to “discard [the single-use mask] immediately in a closed bin.”

Related: Discarded face masks now threatening wildlife habitats

Traditionally, masks are supposed to be discarded frequently. But with the current shortages, many people are making their own with cotton and/or wearing the same mask for long periods of time. If you have paper masks, they should be carefully removed and thrown out after each use. They cannot safely be reused or recycled. N95 masks should be reserved for medical staff only. If you do have N95 masks, check with your state’s public health department, your city’s health department or local hospitals for donating procedures.

Have a cloth mask? The CDC offers advice on how to make, wear and wash cloth masks. After each wear, wash cloth masks in a washing machine before reuse. Hot water and regular laundry detergent should do the trick at cleaning these masks, and you can also add color-safe bleach as an extra precaution.

bleach, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer on wood table

Disinfectants, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer

Household cleaning products and hand sanitizers are being used much more than usual. So what should you do with all of the packaging? Packaging can be appropriately discarded in either recycle bins or trash cans, depending on the labels.

Related: How to properly and safely dispose of these 10 items in your home

As for sponges and scouring pads, those should be thrown in the trash. For containers of specialty cleaners, like oven cleaner, check with your local waste management company for advice on how to safely dispose of these items.

According to Earth911, it is important to read the labels of cleaning items for specific disposal instructions. “For example, many antibacterial cleaning products contain triclosan, which could contribute to the antibiotic resistance of bacteria, so it should not be poured down your drain.”

yellow container of disinfecting wipes


Despite marketing’s ploy to pass off the ever-popular wipe as ‘flushable,’ it isn’t. Many municipal plumbing systems were not designed to handle flushed wipes. While many people stocked up on wipes after the toilet paper supply ran dry, disinfectant wipes have also flown off the shelves. But Green Matters warns against flushing both ‘flushable’ and disinfectant wipes. “The only thing (besides bodily fluids) that you should be flushing down the toilet is all that toilet paper you stocked up on.”

RecycleNow also explains, “Baby wipes, cosmetic wipes, bathroom cleaning wipes and moist toilet tissues are not recyclable and are not flushable, either, even though some labels say they are. They should always be placed in your rubbish bin.”

person wearing blue gloves while cleaning with spray bottle and paper towels

Paper towels and other paper products

Many paper products are labeled as ‘made from recycled materials.’ Accordingly, many consumers believe paper towels and napkins can be chucked into recycling bins.

However, Business Insider cautions otherwise. Why? Soiled paper towels and napkins ruin whole batches of recyclables. Besides, if you purchased recycled paper towels, their “fibers are too short to be used again,” meaning they can’t be recycled, even if they are clean.

If you used paper towels with chemical cleaners or if they are greasy, they should go into the trash. If you are sick, the trash can is again the best place for used paper products. Otherwise, paper products that are not chlorine-bleached can be composted.

Images via Inhabitat, Unsplash and Pixabay