A new Suffolk County law has been introduced to help curb the improper disposal of personal protective equipment, in light of the rampant littering of masks and gloves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved the bill — the first of its kind in New York State — prohibiting the improper disposal of single or multi-use PPE in any public location, other than a trash bin, during a disaster or state of emergency.
Violators would received a $250 fine for their first offense, $750 for a second offense, and $1500 the third time or any time afterwards. Warnings may be issued for first-time offenders.
Legislator William Spencer, a physician who also represents the 18th district, introduced the bill. “Our law imposes a fine, however our goal is not to have residents pay the fine, but to incentivize our public to be responsible,” Dr. Spencer said in a statement. “Once finished using disposable PPE, folks just need to find the nearest receptacle and throw it out — it’s really that simple.”
County Executive Steve Bellone is expected to sign the bill into law next week.
According to the bill, the PPE “harbors germs and other bacteria which make it a public health hazard,” that can perpetuate the spread of viral infections.
This is both a public health issue and environmental issue, according to Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron. “Wearing gloves and a face cover can help prevent the wearer from making others ill. It is clearly the responsible thing to do during this public health emergency, however proper disposal of these items is also imperative to prevent the spread of illness and keep everyone safe,” he said.
Nassau County legislators hope to pass a similar law. “We need a unified commitment to eradicate PPE litter from Great Neck to the Hamptons,” said Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan in the statement.
Suffolk residents have been proactive about cutting down on the plastic pollution “only to take a leap backwards by littering with used PPE,” said Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.