Canadians flushing masks, gloves down toilets, New Zealand flushes out COVID

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-06-12 16:39
UPDATE: After declaring itself free of the coronavirus last week, New Zealand reported two new cases on June 16. New Zealand's Health Ministry says both cases were imported through travel.

Your coronavirus news for the week

Remember Vancouver’s Pee and Poo mascots?

The two might be making a comeback. And no — thankfully not through your home’s septic system.

Metro Vancouver is putting a new emphasis on responsible flushing campaigns — like the one featuring Pee and Poo — after noticing a surge of personal protective equipment (PPE) showing up in the city’s sewage treatment plants.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, masks, gloves and other PPE are becoming a problem not only in Vancouver, but all around the world.

Metro Vancouver’s chief administrative officer, Jerry Dobrovolny, said this results from people flushing these items down the toilet when they shouldn’t.

Large green, dried sludge made from non-biodegradable objects filtered from waste treatment facility

Masks, gloves, and other non-biodegradable items are filtered out from things like poo and toilet paper to be dried and taken to landfills. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

“All of those things can't be treated in the sewage system and, in fact, damage our equipment,” he said.

But PPE aren’t just showing up in sewers. Cities are also noticing an increase in PPE waste on streets.

This is an issue because items that don’t biodegrade can spend hundreds to thousands of years in our environment, and can harm wildlife who can’t distinguish it from food.

Thankfully, some scientists aren’t wasting any time with the waste.

Professor Orlando Rojas of UBC's Bioproducts Institute shows off a prototype for a biodegradable mask. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

To tackle the problem, researchers at the University of British Columbia's Bioproducts Institute are working to create a formula for biodegradable masks.

Professor Orlando Rojas said many of the initial technical hurdles have already been solved, and talks are underway with manufacturers.

While we wait, get inspired by some of the ways Canadian kids are tackling the problem of plastic pollution:

New Zealand is free of COVID, for now

If you’re looking for reasons to keep up good physical distancing practices, look no further than New Zealand.

Earlier this week, the country reported zero cases of coronavirus for the first time since the pandemic started in February.

As of Monday, it had been 17 days since the country’s last new COVID-19 case, and health officials said the case is now recovered.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said she danced with glee alongside her toddler when she found out her country had eliminated COVID-19. (Mark Mitchell/The Associated Press)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made clear that the country has to be prepared for a comeback.

“We almost certainly will see cases here again,” she said. “And that is not a sign that we have failed. It is a reality of this virus.”

According to experts, Ardern’s quick decision to impose strict lockdowns was a big factor in the country’s elimination of the virus.

To help stop another spread, any citizens returning to New Zealand have to quarantine, and the country’s border remains closed to tourists. (Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

With the good news, Ardern announced that the country would be able to celebrate once again by enjoying some of the freedoms that have been on hold.

“We can hold public events without limitations. Private events such as weddings, functions and funerals without limitations,” Ardern said. “Retail is back without limitations. Hospitality is back without limitations. Public transport and travel across the country is fully opened.”

Elsewhere in the world, coronavirus cases continue to rise. This week, the pandemic accelerated in parts of Africa and India saw a large spike in new cases.

Want to compare how Canada is doing? Check out Canada’s Curve every week to see how COVID-19 is affecting Canadians over time.

(Allison Cake/CBC)

As always, the goal is to keep that line flat, and for it eventually to go down . Read this to find out more.

With files from Greg Rasmussen/CBC and the Associated Press

Top Photo: (Omar Frangieh/Reuters, Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald, illustrated by Allison Cake/CBC)

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