A latex glove carelessly discarded in a shopping trolley.

By Daryll Law & Natasha Jee 

KUCHING: Worn as safety precautions against Covid-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) may keep humans safe.

But improper disposal of the PPE may pose a potential public health hazard to others and harm the environment.

Protective gear such as masks, disinfectant wipes and latex gloves are increasingly becoming part of the garbage discarded by the public here who don them to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus and then discard them on streets, confined spaces, shopping carts, parking spaces, drains, rivers and seas.

Used PPE is more hazardous than normal household waste. Cleaners who dispose of them can be exposed to the deadly virus.

The issue has become a matter of deep concern and local governments and law enforcement agencies have begun reaching out to the public to encourage them to dispose of their used PPE properly without being coerced or punished.

“My job is to ensure the supermarket is safe and clean for the shoppers. I feel disappointed and do hope the public will be more responsible and maintain a good hygiene especially during this Covid-19 pandemic,” said a cleaner of a local supermarket who only wanted to be known as Nadia.

The 40-year-old woman is unhappy some irresponsible shoppers are throwing used face masks and hand gloves inside the supermarket compound.

“Every week since the movement control order (MCO) whenever I sweep the parking lots in the morning, there are at least two to three masks and gloves. Some cleaners have also found some wet and dry tissues inside the supermarket,” she said.

Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) Sarawak Environmental Quality controller Justine Jok Jau Emang, when contacted by New Sarawak Tribune, warned that the people could be fined up to RM30,000 under the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance for unlawful disposal of waste.

Justin Jok

“If we catch offenders based on information provided by the public, we can compound or prosecute them.

“Therefore, we call on the public to become our eyes and ears,” he said, adding that the identity of informers would be kept confidential.

Padawan Municipal Council (MPP) chairman Lo Khere Chiang said the many used masks on the road showed how unhygienic some people were.

Lo stressed that the council would not hesitate to take action against litterbugs under Section 18(1) and 18(3) Local Authorities (Cleanliness) By laws, 1999, which carries a fine of RM1,000 for the first offence, and a further fine of RM2,000 or imprisonment for six months or both for the second or subsequent offence.

“Let us all remind one another that during this Covid-19 crisis, everyone’s contribution is of utmost importance.

“I beg each and every one of us to play our little part by keeping our rubbish away from our roads, drains, rivers, parks and public places. Let’s not simply throw our masks on the road.

“Our council’s officers and staff including our road sweepers are facing risks in keeping the towns clean,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kota Samarahan Municipal Council (KSMC) chairman Datuk Peter Minos said used protective equipment should not be randomly discarded.

“It may become a new source of infection, especially in Samarahan area which is now categorised as a Covid-19 red zone.   

“Please be civic minded, be mindful of our citizen duty of cleanliness and neatness. Why is it so difficult to throw it properly? Please be more responsible, especially during this trying time when we do not want other diseases to emerge.  

“I’m appealing to our people to keep our town safe and clean. Be proud of our town.   

“Do not throw your waste and rubbish on the streets, roads, roadsides, open spaces, drains, streams or rivers … Use the bins, and the local councils will do the rest.”

Minos added that the public should wrap their used masks and gloves properly before throwing them into the bins.

Recently, a Trienekens Sarawak Sdn Bhd (Trienekens) spokesperson advised the public not to throw used face masks and gloves everywhere.

“Throw the items into the garbage bags.   

“It is important to put the garbage in the bins we provide so that it can be easily collected and emptied by our workers,” he added.

Info graphic taken from Trinekens Facebook page showing the six important steps for safe disposal of used gloves and face masks.