Discarded COVID-19 PPE is Fatal to Wildlife

Face masks and gloves are becoming deadly to birds and small animals around the world

  • A new study is looking into the effects of COVID-19 PPE being discarded improperly.
  • Unfortunately, it looks like animals are the ones who are greatly affected by the litter.
  • Thousands of face masks, gloves, and other PPE are being thrown carelessly and greatly affecting wildlife.

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.

The Effects of 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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