How Rubicon is Tackling PPE Pollution During COVID-19

If you have recently gone for a walk in your local neighborhood, hiked your favorite trail, or visited your closest beach, there’s a good chance that you will have seen discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of disposable face masks, gloves, face shields, and more.

This should come as no surprise, as one estimate published in Environmental Science & Technology journal last month stated that the global monthly use of PPE during the COVID-19 public health emergency amounts to roughly 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves.

These are staggering numbers—and while this PPE is needed to help keep us, our loved ones, and our community at large safe during COVID-19, it is essential that we ensure that this environmental hazard is properly disposed of in order to keep it from finding its way into our streets, rivers, and other waterways, and eventually from being funneled into our oceans.

At Rubicon, we’ve spoken in depth about ocean pollution in the past. Waste in the world’s oceans has long been an issue, but the emergence of a greater need for PPE during this crisis has brought this issue into sharper focus, as we look for ways to help make our communities, and the natural environment that surrounds them, more resilient during these times.

Rubicon’s mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. With this mission top of mind, here is Rubicon’s three-point plan to tackle the global PPE pollution problem:

Wear a Reusable Mask

If you work in a medical setting, or you are caring for someone who is sick, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends that you cover your mouth and nose with a respirator (such as an N95 respirator), a medical face mask, or in certain cases, a cloth face covering.

If you do not fall into this category, the CDC recommends you use a reusable cloth face covering that can be washed on a regular basis, such as a scarf or a cloth face mask that you buy or make yourself.

The reason why you should wear a reusable mask is twofold. First, the CDC recommends reserving respirators and medical face masks for healthcare workers and other first responders. Second, if everyone in the U.S. used a single-use face mask once per day for a year, it would result in the disposal of over 119 billion face masks. If you do have to wear a disposable face mask—Rubicon recently announced that we are supplying free PPE to our hauler partners—be sure to dispose of it carefully.

Avoid Disposable Gloves

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when caring for someone who is sick, or when cleaning.

It does not, on the other hand, recommend wearing gloves when running everyday errands. In the CDC’s own words: “In most other situations, like running errands, wearing gloves is not necessary. Instead, practice everyday preventive actions like keeping social distance (at least 6 feet) from others, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol), and wearing a cloth face covering when you have to go out in public.”

While you may be tempted to wear disposable gloves to stay “extra safe” when running errands, in truth the surface of a disposable rubber glove is no more sanitary than the surface of your ungloved hands; hands which you would likely still feel the need to wash after running an errand.

Rubicon’s PPE Second Life Solution

Beyond the obvious visual and environmental impacts that discarded PPE poses, there is a larger concern that single-use PPE could pose a biohazard threat if it is not properly disposed of. At Rubicon, our PPE second life solution makes it easy for Rubicon customers to dispose of their personal protective equipment in a safe and environmentally friendly manner, as part of Rubicon’s larger waste and recycling offerings.

Rubicon’s PPE second life solution consists of two options: a back-of-house collection program, as well as a public-use mail-in program:

Back-of-House Collection Program

Rubicon’s back-of-house collection program makes it easy for your business to safely dispose of large volumes of PPE that is generated in-house. When you choose this option, Rubicon will pick up drums of this material and ensure it is properly managed.

Public-Use Mail-In Program

Rubicon’s collection boxes can be shipped to all locations participating in our public-use mail-in program. In these collection boxes you can place a wide variety of PPE, including face masks, nitrile gloves, Tyvek coats, shoe covers, bouffant caps, and more. Once a box is full, it can be presented to UPS or FedEx for return shipping using a pre-paid shipping label. Materials will be sent to a waste-to-energy facility.

To learn more about Rubicon’s PPE second life solution, please reach out to your Rubicon point of contact, email Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at circularsolutions@rubicon.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.


Tammy Brasher is a Director of Regulated Waste at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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