Personal protective equipment (PPE) disposal during COVID-19: An emerging source of microplastic and microfiber pollution in the environment

Muhammad Tariq Khan, Izaz Ali Shah, Md Faysal Hossain, Nasrin Akther, Yanbo Zhou, Muhammad Sajawal Khan, Muayad Al-shaeli, Muhammad Suleman Bacha, Ihsanullah Ihsanullah*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Waste generated by healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has become a new source of pollution, particularly with the widespread use of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE). Releasing microplastics (MPs) and microfibers (MFs) from discarded PPE becomes an emerging threat to environmental sustainability. MPs/MFs have recently been reported in a variety of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, including water, deep-sea sediments, air, and soil. As COVID-19 spreads, the use of plastic-made PPE in healthcare facilities has increased significantly worldwide, resulting in massive amounts of plastic waste entering the terrestrial and marine environments. High loads of MPs/MFs emitted into the environment due to excessive PPE consumption are easily consumed by aquatic organisms, disrupting the food chain, and potentially causing chronic health problems in humans. Thus, proper management of PPE waste is critical for ensuring a post-COVID sustainable environment, which has recently attracted the attention of the scientific community. The current study aims to review the global consumption and sustainable management of discarded PPE in the context of COVID-19. The severe impacts of PPE-emitted MPs/MFs on human health and other environmental segments are briefly addressed. Despite extensive research progress in the area, many questions about MP/MF contamination in the context of COVID-19 remain unanswered. Therefore, in response to the post-COVID environmental remediation concerns, future research directions and recommendations are highlighted considering the current MP/MF research progress from COVID-related PPE waste.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160322
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 20 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • COVID-19
  • Health risks
  • Microfibers
  • Microplastics
  • Personal protective equipment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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