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[Newsmaker] Single-use plastic gloves at polls raise eyebrows

Piles of plastic gloves discarded at a polling station in Seoul (Yonhap)
Piles of plastic gloves discarded at a polling station in Seoul (Yonhap)

All voters must wear plastic gloves at the polling stations during Wednesday’s general election as a precaution against the coronavirus, but many people are voicing concerns about their impact on the environment.

Mask-clad voters, upon arriving at one of 14,330 polling stations across the nation, first have to disinfect their hands with the hand sanitizer that is provided by election officials and then put on disposable gloves before casting their ballots. After voting, the plastic gloves have to be discarded in a designated bin outside the station.

In the unprecedented situation of an election to pick around 300 lawmakers coinciding with a pandemic, preventive measures are needed to keep the virus at bay. But there are concerns that huge piles of discarded gloves could cause significant harm to the environment, not to mention the millions of disposable masks used and thrown away every day.

“I received two gloves that I wore for like less than like five minutes,” said Yoon Ji-hye, a 32-year-old office worker who voted in Seoul this morning. “I understand the requirement because of the possible spread of the virus. But all those gloves thrown away could be problematic.”

As more than 29 million citizens cast ballots at polls on Wednesday, more than 58 million single-use gloves are estimated to be used for the election. Earlier, a local NGO Korea Zero Waste Movement said when stacking up disposable gloves used at the election, it could be as tall as the height of seven 63 Buildings, or 1.7 kilometers, adding voters should be allowed to bring their own gloves from home instead.

Despite being aware of the concerns, health authorities defended the use of disposable gloves. “I think it is much safer to use single-use plastic gloves that haven’t been worn before,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The reason why we are providing sanitizer and plastic gloves is because the virus could spread through hand contact.”

Several petitions calling for a ban on using plastic gloves during the election have been posted on Cheong Wa Dae’s website. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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