Littered Face Masks Are Harming Wildlife

We do what we can to stay safe during the pandemic, but sometimes the decisions we make are not always the best for the little things around us. For example, in many parts of the world, the wearing of masks is more than just a good idea, it is a requirement. You can even take things to the next level by wearing gloves.

Although masks may have helped to curtail the coronavirus at least a little over the past year or so, they have not done well for the environment. As people discard the masks indiscriminately, they become more than just litter on the ground and in the waterways, they become deadly to animals.

PHOTO: Unsplash

The Naturalis Biodiversity Center conducted a survey that looked into how wildlife, including fish and birds, were impacted by the personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been discarded. It was prompted because of a fish that was found trapped in a medical latex glove in the Dutch city of Leiden. It wasn’t long before additional searches found that there were hundreds of masks discarded in the canals.

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Auke-Florian Hiemstra spoke with CNN about the problem. He is the co-author of the report and a biologist. He said that single-use items, such as gloves and masks, can quickly overwhelm the environment. It isn’t long before they become a problem. He also speaks of the irony of it all, saying how they protect humans but are harmful to animals.

PHOTO: Twitter / @VeronicaJoPo

In order to learn more about the depth of the problem, social media got involved along with local and international news outlets. Over 50 different reports came in about wildlife being harmed as a result of discarded PPE. Some of the animals that were harmed included hedgehogs, dogs, monkeys, and even penguins!

The solution to the problem is actually simpler than most people realize; discard of your PPE properly.

PHOTO: Twitter / @carinbondar

Liselotte Rambonnet is also a co-author to the study and biologist who says that every deadly interaction with PPE involved a single-use item. They’re inexpensive, and unfortunately, are also easily discarded.

The numbers are unbelievably large and getting larger. Approximately 1.56 billion masks ended up in the ocean during 2020 according to CNN. This isn’t a problem that will go away quickly, they are likely to be in the ocean for centuries.

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