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Miami Streets Are Littered With Gloves, Masks, and Wipes

Go to any grocery store or pharmacy and you'll likely see it: latex and plastic gloves, single-use masks, and sanitizing wipes littering parking lots, storefronts, and sidewalks.

Gloves are strewn about nearly everywhere — in store parking lots in Aventura and Hialeah, and on the streets and sidewalks of Miami Lakes, Miami Beach, and Homestead.

"It's pissing me off," says Mike Gibaldi, a longtime Miami Beach environmental activist and member of the city's sustainability committee. "We've worked so hard, and the city has done so many positive things related to policy with single-use plastics. To see this is disheartening."

It's fair to say people are worried about a million other things right now. We're all doing what we believe we need to do to protect ourselves. There's debate about whether masks and gloves are effective at protecting against COVID-19. As of now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't recommend routine use of masks out in the community because, most often, spread comes from close person-to-person contact.

At the same time, experts are now questioning conventional guidance on masks. There are no simple answers.

As for gloves, some experts say not to bother with them.

"This isn't something the general public would be wearing," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on the Today show last month. "I don't think they're going to do anything but give people a false sense of security, waste time, and create more demand for something that's unnecessary, just like masks."

Regardless of how people choose to protect themselves when they're out, Gibaldi doesn't think the pandemic should be an excuse to litter.

"Be conscious and care about your surroundings. Be kind to the environment," he says. "It's almost a common courtesy."

Residents across Miami-Dade are posting pictures on social media of the trash they're seeing in their communities. They're simply calling on others to throw their used personal protective equipment into garbage cans.

Stacy Wyatt, a Homestead resident, says she's been seeing many discarded gloves in store parking lots and inside grocery carts during her supply runs. Wyatt says her concern isn't just about sanitation but for the workers who have to pick up other people's messes.

"Somebody else has to clean that up, and you're putting them at risk," Wyatt says. "The same garbage cans that were always there are still there. The virus hasn't taken those away. So please, if you insist on wearing gloves, at least be kind to the area and to the people have to clean it up and throw it away. It's not the apocalypse — maintain some decency."

Some are also creating social media campaigns to raise awareness. Maude-Laure Audet, a resident of the North Shore neighborhood in Miami Beach, has been photographing the discarded gloves she encounters on her daily "sanity walks." So far, she has posted more than two dozen photos in an Instagram highlight on her personal page and started a separate page called @_one.glove, where she'll continue to post photos of the litter she sees around her neighborhood.

"It's just getting frustrating, so I thought, How can I make people more aware of this?" Audet says. "It's great that we're protecting ourselves. We have to also realize there's a community to take care of."

Clean This Beach Up, a Miami Beach-based environmental group that organizes trash pickups throughout the county, launched a social media campaign to keep track of improperly discarded gloves. The challenge invites people to take pictures of the medical supply waste they see in their communities, tag @cleanthisbeachup on Instagram stories or posts, and use the hashtag #TheGloveChallenge. Mariajose Algarra, the group's founder, says she has received more than 667 photos since starting the campaign nine days ago.

On a recent walk, Algarra says, she saw 18 pairs of gloves on the Venetian Causeway.

"There are no garbage cans [on the Venetian], but also, what the hell?" Algarra says. "People must be throwing them out of their cars."

Miami-Dade already has major problems with littering. Algarra says that on any given month in normal times, her weekend cleanups gather hundreds of pounds of plastics, cigarette butts, Styrofoam, paper products, and syringes.

People might be generating more garbage now because of how often they're cleaning their surroundings with wipes and paper towels. And they're probably using more plastic products — hand sanitizer, wipes, alcohol, and the like all come in plastic containers that will be thrown out eventually.

And environmentalists worry about where all that trash will end up.

"Almost anywhere somebody could be in Miami — could be out in the farthest reaches — there are storm drains," Gibaldi says. "They feed into small canals and bigger canals and to the Miami River, which goes to Biscayne Bay, which goes to the ocean. I don't think people think about how litter gets downstream."

When that litter makes it into bodies of water, wildlife sometimes can't discern between trash and food. Algarra says sea animals could be at risk of consuming the increased garbage we're producing now.

All of the cleanups with Clean This Beach Up are canceled for the foreseeable future. But Algarra says some people who've previously volunteered are picking up discarded masks, gloves, and wipes in parking lots when they make grocery runs.

"We're not encouraging people to break any rules," she says, "but if you have to go to the store, that's where you're seeing [the waste]. We're telling people if you have pickers and you feel safe, pick it up if you want to."

Algarra says it's upsetting that litterers are leaving their used products for other people to clean up.

"You're gonna be so selfish that you're taking [your gloves] off for someone else to pick up for you," she says. "So you're putting at risk our wildlife and our workers."

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