Students at Fletcher Middle School highlight PPE pollution and waste on Earth Day

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — This Earth Day students in our community are getting involved and spreading awareness on the importance of keeping our parks and beaches clean.

This year we’re facing a new environmental threat.

Disposable face mask and other PPE have been known to save lives during the pandemic, but it’s also been spotted littered on the sides of the streets.

Ocean Conservancy published a report last month revealing that coastal cleanup partners and volunteers collected over 100,000 items of PPE in 2020 in just six months.

“I have noticed a lot of that when I walk out to the parking lot or when I’m walking to the beach. You’ll see a lot of mask that people just discard or they drop,” Chantelle Merritt said.

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Chantelle is a seventh grader at Fletcher Middle School and she’s part of the school’s new Beaches Go Green Club.

The school and the nonprofit partnered together at the beginning of the school year to help educate students about the amount of waste being produced.

“We only have one earth and we have to do everything we can to save it,” Chantelle said.

Scott Fretz said the club started after a handful of his students told him they were interested in learning about environmental issues.

So far they’ve taken part in two major beach cleanups and they’ve created projects, like a giant wave made out of water bottles, to spread awareness.

After just one month, the club was able to show how many plastic water bottles were being discarded.

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“We collected over 2,000 water bottles that were used just within the school,” Fretz said.

That’s when it came up with the idea for the reusable water bottle program.

“We are asking athletes in different sports to stop using single use plastic water bottles and Gatorade bottles, and instead use a reusable water bottle,” Fretz said.

The club has given out over 250 of these water bottles which are being used at games and practices.

For now, Chantelle said you can do your part this Earth Day to help cut down on waste, especially PPE waste.

The seventh grader said it’s best to either switch to reusable mask and wash them or if you must, use a disposable mask that you can cut off the straps so that if the mask ends up getting into the landfill or the ocean, an animal won’t get trapped in it and it won’t hurt them.