Face masks and gloves are becoming deadly to birds and small animals around the world
People use face masks and gloves to protect themselves from COVID-19. However, personal protective equipment (PPE) are disposable and immediately discarded after use. Sadly, this leads to PPE piling up in the trash and becoming fatal to wildlife.
A new study by the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands is looking into the effects of PPE litter. It all started when scientists in the city found a fish trapped in a latex glove last August. Since then, they have discovered that thousands of masks have been discarded around Leiden’s historical areas.
The researchers decided to see the bigger picture. They set out to check if small fish are not the only ones affected. Using social media, the scientist learned how wildlife is interacting with the PPE litter.
Sadly, dogs, monkeys, hedgehogs and even penguins had eaten discarded PPE. Some have even entangled themselves in the trash. Moreover, birds have been using masks and gloves in building their nests.
Auke-Florian Hiemstra is a biologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. He pointed out that the PPE is discarded quickly because people are not using them properly.
“As always with these single-use items, you’re not really looking after them and they end up in the environment really soon. They start becoming a real problem,” Hiemstra said. “I think it’s ironic that the materials that protect us are so harmful to the animals around us.”
But how can humans prevent their discarded PPE from becoming hazardous to wildlife? Cutting the ear loops in masks before discarding is highly recommended. It will prevent animals from getting entangled in the PPE.
It is also recommended to use and dispose the PPE properly. Another option is to invest in reusable face masks that you can use multiple times.
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