Mask disposal: Protect yourself and the environment

JACKSON, Wyo. — Numerous reports of masks being littered throughout Jackson Hole have made it clear that with more folks wearing masks, more masks are being littered. The same goes for other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like latex gloves.

Several days ago, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) posted a picture of a mask on the shore at Jenny Lake. Other hikers have seen multiple masks on the ground next to trails or other natural areas.

“Masks help protect yourself and others, but they’re detrimental to the landscape when left on the side of a trail or at a picnic area,” GTNP said on their Facebook post. “If you bring a mask with you, remember to follow Leave No Trace principals and pack out what you pack in.”

Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19 is important, but so is protecting the environment. Not only do the materials used to create masks take a long time to break down, but curious wildlife can get caught, or even choke on, littered masks and latex gloves.

“There’s no mask fairy that’s going to come by and pick up your trash for you,” Director of Health for Teton County, Jodie Pond, said. “I’m disappointed to see that around town just like any other kind of litter.”

There are no bio-hazard bins to throw away masks in; usually, a normal trash can is safe. According to Pond, the virus does not stay on disposed masks for very long, but a 24-hour period is recommended before picking up littered PPE. So, unless you’ve been eyeing the same mask on the ground for over a day, it is difficult to know if it is safe to pick up or not.

This is an important reminder that masks and other PPE equipment belong in the trash just like anything else that has succumbed to its last use. If you litter your mask, you are putting others at risk who may be exposed to the virus when picking up your trash, which defeats a large purpose of wearing a mask in the first place.

Residents and visitors of Jackson Hole know that this place is special because of our scenic and wild locations. Please do your part to help keep the valley pristine, and remember to always pack out what you pack in.

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