Socially safe etiquette
during COVID-19 / 4
More tips to help when in the communal areas of your apartment, office buildings and parking lots
By Wanda Potrykus
The amount of used gloves and masks I see littering the street is troubling. It’s like people learned how to wash their hands and forgot how to put things in the trashcan.
– Tweet from @Superhaunted
The COVID-19 pandemic is generating a considerable amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) waste, especially in terms of disposal masks and gloves. The general public has been requested to keep the medical-grade equipment for our health workers and for those most at risk on the front lines of the battle we all face with this disease, such as cleaners, store staff, taxi and public transport workers, the police and public security people, etc.
The rest of us are being encouraged to wear homemade or non-medical grade masks, perhaps produced by our favourite fashion house, grass-roots organizations or by our friends and neighbours. I propose we extend that to gloves as well, meaning we adopt the wearing of washable cotton or synthetic fabric gloves instead of the disposable nitrile or latex ones. Perhaps then we won’t be tempted to drop them so indiscriminately onto our streets and parking lots.
This is the second part or the remainder of the Elevator-Communal Space Tips for Socially Safe Etiquette in pandemic times. In the event you missed the first part of this article, which enumerates Tips #1-4, it can be accessed here.
Elevator Etiquette-Communal Space Tip #5: Wear gloves and wipe down what you touch
With this tip, I reference, in particular, the shared laundry, recycling and garbage disposal and maybe even the mailbox areas, in your apartment building. In the laundry area, I bring my sanitizing wipes and wipe down the taps and machines (paying attention to the money slots and lids and dryer doors). If I use a handcart to bring up stuff to my apartment I also wipe that down before and after use. I also try not to touch the banisters or elevator handrails unless I am wearing gloves. Like everyone else, I have no choice but to touch the handles of the street and garage entry doors as well as those of the laundry and garbage rooms and the tops of garbage/recycling cans, though mostly I am also wearing gloves. It’s got so by now I feel almost unclothed outside my home without my gloves. It’s amazing how quickly we humans can adapt if we put our minds to it.
Gentle ladies wear gloves year-round, gentlemen why not follow suit?
When I was a child my mother never went out of the house without wearing gloves. Culturally in Europe this practise continued widely until approx the mid to late 1960s. My mother colour coordinated her hat and gloves and sometimes also shoes for all seasons of the year, using light cotton, rayon, or later polyester ones for summer, while my sisters and I wore hats and white cotton gloves in summer to church until approximately our early to mid-teens.
When this pandemic loomed and the prognosis was that we would have to wait approximately a year to 18 months for a vaccine, I tried to find varicoloured gloves i.e. ones I could wash after each use, of the sort my mother wore, as an alternative to latex or nitrile gloves, as with arthritic hands it hurts to put on and take off those tight fitting plastic gloves, only to realize they aren’t much available anymore. Lots of choice in winter gloves but not much else of the more elegant variety for the three other seasons of the year, and what was available was out of stock.
I settled, instead, very much as a last resort, for some pairs of bleached cotton work gloves but they are somewhat thick and truthfully not at all stylish and a little bulky to wear. I feel a bit like Minnie Mouse, or maybe Goofy, with them on. So I also bought some thinner more form-fitting work gloves, but unfortunately, they came only in two-tone red and black and yellow and black (apparently the new de rigeur colours for toolboxes), so I will try and build my spring, summer and autumn ‘go for walks’ wardrobe around them. Luckily I like bright colours so red, yellow and black will have to be my new ‘fave colours’ for 2020, instead of Pantone Classic Blue (supposedly comforting and reliable) which is the ‘in’ colour for 2020.
‘For men with a sartorial bent why not adopt both mask and glove-wearing as the new year-round safety and fashion trend for others to follow? Come on guys, get with the trend, make it manly to mask and gracious to glove!’
Shame there’s no work or cotton gloves available in that shade as they would look good with a denim face mask as supposedly denim is one of the materials touted as one of the most efficacious to use for home-made, non-medical face masks.
Plus if the demand is there i.e. if we create it that is, it could be that the back-orders for those colourful ‘out of stock’ summer gloves will encourage the glove manufacturers to tool up and start filling them since it’s rather more difficult to come up with home-made or ‘do-it-yourself’ fabric gloves.
Make it manly to mask and gracious to glove
For men with a sartorial bent why not adopt both mask and glove-wearing as the new year-round safety and fashion trend for others to follow? Come on guys, get with the trend, make it manly to mask and gracious to glove! The fashion houses are open to it. Lots of high-end options are starting to appear for facemasks if not (yet) 3-season fashion gloves.
Elevator Etiquette-Communal Space Tip #6: If you wear fabric masks and/or gloves, wash after each use
Along with the one-use disposable masks and gloves, fashion or fabric ones will also require focused care and attention too, and yes, they will certainly need to be washed after each use. Meaning it might be useful to have several sets to avoid taking a chance with missing or avoiding this step. One option is to bring them with you to the bathroom when you go to wash your hands after re-entering your home and to wash them out with soap as you are washing your hands, as we are all constantly advised to do. Then hang to dry and reuse the next day, or use your spares and alternate each day.
‘There’s a green one and pink one and blue one and yellow one…’
– Malvina Reynolds
Elevator Etiquette-Communal Space Tip #7: Wrap first, then jettison your disposable gloves and masks in a secure refuse container
It has become evident that the human penchant for littering knows no bounds, especially as regards drink and food containers and doggie doo-doo bags but during this pandemic, the new, often colourful ‘ground decorative item’ has become disposable gloves and masks.
“There’s a green one and pink one and blue one and yellow one, and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same” as the 1962 Malvina Reynolds’ song goes (made famous by Pete Seeger and later the TV series Weeds, although, to be fair, it was written about houses, not gloves). Apart from the aforementioned colours, in spring 2020 the ground displays featuring nitrile gloves also come in black, white and lilac, as well as several vibrant shades of blue, green, yellow, purple and pink and matching the crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths in their intensity.
‘This is not containing the virus, people. This is pollution. This is disgusting. The whole parking lot is covered with gloves and masks.’
– Josh Pennock
If you feel your mask and gloves are contaminated and need to be got rid of, why would you consider it acceptable to discard them willy-nilly on the ground? Social media posts are full of disdain for those who litter these items in particular. One of my favourites tweets comes from @Superhaunted: “The amount of used gloves and masks I see littering the street is troubling. It’s like people learned how to wash their hands and forgot how to put things in the trash can.”
Actions speak louder than words
Do not drop them into the street, onto the pathway or in people’s gardens or onto store parking lots. They could be infection carriers and whether you are aware of it or not, you could be responsible for infecting others, especially those who have to clean up after you. Why would you not care about that? And if you don’t, what does that say about you?
On March 22, Josh Pennock posted a video on Twitter (almost a million views and counting) of discarded masks and gloves with the comment: “At Walmart in Maple… this is NOT OKAY. Our planet is fighting back yet we continue to abuse her. Aside from the pollution, this is disgusting and unsanitary.” He followed up later with: “This is not containing the virus, people. This is pollution. This is disgusting. The whole parking lot is covered with gloves and masks, and this is gross.”
I agree with him, so please, do not drop them on the ground after you pull them off your face or hands, but place them instead into a disposable bag (or wrap them in a tissue, paper towel or newspaper) and bring them home to your refuse container.
Elevator Etiquette-Communal Space Tip #8: Don’t litter – ever
Protect our planet home, educate yourself and your family about what biodegradable and decomposition mean.
‘… the farther away you are from a trash can or a recycling container, the more likely you are to litter.’
– Wesley Schultz, CSU social psychologist
If you don’t see me, it didn’t happen
It appears some people litter when they think others aren’t watching. The more litter there is about, the more confident we humans become in our littering habits. How convoluted is that?
The distance to a waste receptacle is also an issue. Wesley Schultz, a California State University social psychologist studies littering habits. “We found that the distance to a trash receptacle was the strongest predictor of littering,” Schultz says. “So the farther away you are from a trash can or a recycling container, the more likely you are to litter.”
We don’t like to carry our refuse with us, so we drop it everywhere including, I’ve noticed, in apartment and office building stairways and often within a few metres of a refuse container. Think tissues, coffee cups, sandwich wrappers and those ubiquitous nitrile gloves as well as dog poop bags littering our parks and streets and tossed into other people’s gardens. Perhaps we need to talk more about the subject and make it socially acceptable to carry our litter with us and yes, this applies to your dog poop bags too.
‘Pet waste carries many bacteria, parasites (roundworms) and other diseases that can be transmitted to humans… Another hazard is campylobacter bacteria… E.coli, parvovirus, and salmonella.’
– DoodyCalls blog
Even biodegradable takes time
The reality is our waste takes a lot longer to biodegrade or decompose than most of us think and landfills mostly make it almost impossible for plastics of all kinds to ever decompose since compression and lack of oxygen lead to “mummification” of garbage. The only real way to break down plastic is through photodegradation and that method of decomposition requires sunlight, not darkness and bacteria. How mind-boggling is that?
Bin it, don’t sling it
When I was a child and we were out picnicking my mother always packed up our refuse and either we brought it home, or it was disposed of in a municipal rubbish bin if it wasn’t overflowing when we passed it. I still practise that method of disposal, although I do have a friend who seems to think she can discard her apple core, satsuma and banana peels, or eggshells out of her car window. “Oh they’re biodegradable”, she cheerfully responds when she notices my disapproving look.
Problem is, we live in an island city, and if all two million people of us decided it was okay to drop our biodegradable waste out of the window, we’d soon be neck-deep in rubbish and screaming at one other. And if you won’t do it for other humans, think of the damage your waste can cause to birds, animals (including pets) and aquatic creatures.
Depending on the method of decomposition, an apple core takes two months and a banana peel can take up to 2 years to decompose in the open air (somewhat shorter in a compost pile, apparently as little as 4 weeks), dog poop, not in a baggie, takes up to one year (but meanwhile it’s full of harmful bacteria and possibly parasites). Eggshells take up to three years, whereas disinfecting or baby wipes take 100 years or more, plastic straws take 200 years, plastic bottles 450 years and disposable diapers 550 years!
Theoretically, nitrile gloves are presumed to take from as little as many multiple decades to hundreds of years to biodegrade depending on what chemicals they are impregnated with (but they haven’t been around long enough to know for sure). One manufacturer in the UK, however, is claiming their EBT nitrile gloves will biodegrade in as little as 24 months: “Eco Best Technology® (EBT) is the ground-breaking technology from SHOWA that allows nitrile and other synthetic fibres within gloves to biodegrade in landfill.” (Source: globus.co.uk )
Has anyone much checked on that claim as it’s supposedly practically impossible for any plastics in a landfill to biodegrade? That being said, there are some innovative repurposing ideas for gloves out there but their use has yet to become widespread. Maybe the time has arrived to adopt some of them sooner rather than later, especially in light of the huge amount of personal protective equipment waste this pandemic (and potentially future ones) will generate?
Pandemic Takeaway – Stay safe – Your waste belongs in bins
So it seems no matter which way you want to look at it, waste of all descriptions still belongs in a refuse container, either headed to a landfill, the incinerator, the recycling box, or if edible, brought home and composted, if feasible.
Most of all, in these pandemic times, all those tissues and wipes, as well as face masks and nitrile/latex gloves belong in the black, or landfill refuse bins (until someone sometime in the future solves the biodegradable dilemma) and not flushed or placed in recycling bins, or littering the streets and public places we all frequent, whether in, or outside of, or around the buildings we inhabit.
Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.