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Crew to track down trashed personal protective equipment

A glove and a surgical mask improperly disposed

A glove and a surgical mask improperly disposed alongside a street in Queens, as seen on April 12. Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Southampton Town will deploy a team solely devoted to picking up discarded personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, as well as other litter from the town’s roads, beaches, parks and parking lots.

Used surgical masks and latex gloves strewed about parking lots has been a common sight since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“It’s hard not to notice it. It’s everywhere,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said in a news release announcing the program.

The town board voted May 26 to allocate $50,000 to fund the new Town Litter Crew program. The money includes $28,400 to hire six full-time seasonal employees at $17 per hour to pick up trash in the town. Southampton's public safety department will oversee the program and will coordinate with the police, public works, parks and the Community Preservation Fund departments.

The program is expected to roll out June 15, said Ryan Murphy, the town’s public safety and emergency management administrator. The town is interviewing candidates, but had not hired anyone as of Thursday, Murphy said.

Meanwhile, residents can log complaints through the town’s online portal, Southampton Online Solutions.

“We’re definitely seeing and hearing complaints of PPE garbage that people are discarding inappropriately,” Murphy said. “I think in some cases it might be accidental. But gloves may be more intentional. They take them off, but then don’t want to touch anything with their hands.”

Workers will be given protective equipment including gloves, grabbers, masks and reflective vests, Murphy said. While picking up litter left by others might be a reflex for some, Murphy advised against doing so with bare hands.

Schneiderman said he hoped to provide employment for people who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic. 

The Town Litter Crew will supplement the litter removal work already performed by the highway, parks and CPF departments, according to the town. Litter will be brought to town transfer stations for disposal. Three two-person crews will work in areas where litter accumulates like shopping centers and big box store parking lots.

Excess litter from PPE has certainly not been limited to the East End during the pandemic. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, noted that while roadside litter was down with fewer people driving, there had been plenty of gloves and masks spotted in public parks and parking lots.

Beach and other public cleanups throughout Long Island also have been canceled due to the pandemic, making the problem worsen, Esposito said.

County lawmakers are pushing bills that would target the problem.

Nassau County Legis. Josh Lafazan (I-Woodbury) sponsored legislation that would impose fines starting at $250 for discarding PPE, although it has not yet been called for a vote. And Suffolk County Legis. William R. Spencer (D-Centerport), a medical doctor, has sponsored a similar bill that would impose fines on discarding PPE while a state of emergency is in effect. A public hearing on that law is set for Tuesday at 2 p.m. during the legislature’s meeting, which can be accessed online.

“No one declared a holiday on common courtesy,” Esposito said. “There is a lot of discussion and surprise in the environmental community about how big of a problem this is.”

Southampton Town Litter Crew

Six town staffers will be hired to pick up litter throughout the town

The two-month program will begin June 15

Visit the Southampton Online Solutions portal at https://gis.southamptontownny.gov/SOS/ to log a complaint.

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