Experts say the masks, gloves and wipes -- items used to keep people safe during the COVID pandemic -- kill marine life and make things an awful mess at the shore.
Decades ago, some beaches were known for garbage and syringes. But laws have changed -- and so have people.
"In the 80s, we had medical waste, blood bags, crack vials, tampon applicators, it was some ugly stuff," Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf said.
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In the 90s, it was cigarette filters and film canisters, then plastic caps, drink lids, balloons, and straws. But now, it's PPE, with masks and gloves added to the list of trash thousands of volunteers from Clean Ocean Action are picking up on the beach.
In some cases, masks are dropped on the sand. In others, they wash down drains to the beach. It's at a point where PPE now has its own data category when volunteers pick it up.
"A little bit of a shame on human beings," said state Senator Bob Smith, who chairs the environment and energy committees. "We are the only animal that dirties its nest. I just wish they was more of an ethic among human beings to recycle, reuse, and don't get it into the (waterways), and don't do things that are deliberately harmful to the environment."
Still, things have changed for the better. More people are using reusable bags ahead of a plastic bag ban that goes into effect in May of 2022, and officials are hoping things will get better once people realize how damaging discarded masks and other PPE can be.
"There's a simple solution," Zipf said. "Be responsible and wear your PPE, but be responsible and manage it properly. Use a trashcan."
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And they say every little bit helps.
"I'm looking forward to the day that you take PPE off the beach sweep list," Smith said.
There is evidence that once people know it's a problem, they change their behavior. The next beach sweep up and down the Jersey Shore is scheduled for Saturday, April 17.
CLICK HERE for more information or to register to help the sweep.
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