PPE in the sea? That was fast! Yes, personal protective equipment, which is mostly plastic, is already showing up in the world’s ocean. It’s yet another negative aspect of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly gloves, masks and other PPE materials are floating alongside the plastic straws, plastic bags and other plastic detritus we were already trying to remove. This is a challenge, says a Bloomberg Law report, as medical personnel and the general public are simply trying to stay safe.

How do entire gloves make their way into the ocean? Some are dropped as litter on beaches, and others come from the water systems of countries that lack strong waste disposal systems. Whatever the route, it’s critical that we not let one crisis (the pandemic) worsen another (plastic pollution in the oceans).

Plastic products, like parts of ventilators, used in health care settings can’t easily be replaced, and certainly not in these crisis moments, experts say. Reusable products, however – like the cloth bags and metal coffee cups many of us adopted before the pandemic – are safe and could be brought back into use to help stem the deluge of plastic products being used by the general public. Greenpeace has issued a statement endorsed by over 100 health experts around the world pointing out that single-use plastic is no safer than reusable products because the coronavirus can remain infectious on various materials for various lengths of time.

So, wearing masks? Essential. Carrying home groceries in single-use plastic bags? Not.