A face mask left as trash on a beach.

A face mask left as trash on a beach.

Ocean Conservancy / Ocean Conservancy

A new report from the Ocean Conservancy said nearly 100 percent of volunteers found PPE at coastal cleanup sites, including in Oregon, with face masks the most common item.

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Nick Mallos, a senior director at the organization, said the waste of all plastic disposables is up, and now is a critical time for legislation. Two proposed bills in Oregon would have phased out single-use plastic and polystyrene foam for food use statewide.

“So these two bills did not make it out of committee,” Mallos told KLCC, “but we are optimistic that in the next legislature, once hopefully COVID has subsided a little bit, that we can resurface these types of policies.”

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Mallos noted the bills targeted products for which there are good, non-plastic alternatives.

Federally, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act a couple weeks ago. It would ban some single-use items and mandate recycled content minimums for manufacturers.

Mallos said the Ocean Conservancy found more than 100,000 items of PPE worldwide in less than six months last year, certainly a vast undercount because there were far fewer volunteers.

“The other items that have been littering our beaches for decades, we’ve also seen a massive uptick in their use during the pandemic,” said Mallos. “So takeaway and delivery services are at an all-time high right now, and unfortunately with most of those services comes an increased use in disposable plastic material.”

One thing people can do to help is clip the ear loops from disposable masks. Mallos said, like six-pack holders, they can ensnare wildlife.


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