Published On: Fri, Feb 26th, 2021

Boca ponders fine for improper disposal of COVID masks, gloves

By Dale King

For a year now, Boca Raton residents have joined COVID-wary citizens around the world in the practice of wearing face masks, gloves, face shields and other paraphernalia designed to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic.

This habit, which in many parts of the world is considered a mandate, has at least one nasty consequence: additional items in the municipal litter stream.

In hopes of stemming the disposal of discarded COVID items anywhere in the city, the Boca Raton City Council is thinking of adopting an ordinance that would slap a $250 fine on folks convicted of tossing away the masks, gloves and other materials designed to insulate us from coronavirus.

An ordinance amending the city’s littering ordinance by adding the hefty penalty to the municipal books will be the subject of a public hearing at the next regular council meeting on March 23.

The ordinance itself was introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting.

In a letter to council members, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said she prepared the ordinance at the request of Councilman Andy Thomson to “address littering of face masks, gloves and other similar personal protection equipment.”  She said the $250 penalty is five times the $50 fine for general littering.

The ordinance itself points out that “face masks, face shields, gloves and similar forms of personal protection equipment are currently in widespread use due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Littering of these items has greatly increased,” the document notes.

“In addition to discouraging littering generally,” the ordinance goes on, “the City Council desires to strongly discourage the improper disposal of personal protective equipment in order to, among other things, curb the spread of COVID-19.”

The suggested city law on littering says that improper disposal of COVID items is subject to a fine, whether or not the material is contaminated. 

The ordinance amendment also expands the municipal anti-littering effort by establishing a $100 penalty for Littering “in or upon canals, lakes and other bodies of water” in an effort to curb marine pollution, particularly in the form of plastic litter.”

The amendment leaves the fine for general littering at $50 but raises to $100 the disposal of debris in storm drains and “other bodies of water.”

The web page, KeepAmericaBeautiful.com” offers the following suggestions for disposal of COVID-related protective materials:

Reserve:  The more sophisticated masks, such as N95, should be reserved for medical personnel, front line responders and essential workers. Individuals should craft face masks from materials they have at home that can be sanitized (washed in soap and water) and reused. Keeping your hands away from your face and hand washing following official guidelines is the best practice for individual protection and slowing the spread of the virus.

Dispose: Used masks, gloves and wipes should not be littered, but disposed of in household or commercial trash containers. These items are not recyclable and should not be placed in recycling collection bins.

How to dispose when a trash bin is not available: Used masks, gloves and wipes should be removed according to official guidelines.

Help keep workers, customers and community safe: Retailers are strongly encouraged to provide frequently serviced trash receptacles in highly accessible areas to prevent the littering of used masks, gloves and wipes.

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