Countries around the world were eliminating single-use plastics and slowly starting to reduce plastic pollution, but it all went out the window when the global pandemic hit.
8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, killing thousands of animals, but with the recent surge in single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) the situation just got worse.
While disposable face masks are meant to keep humans safe, they can be lethal to wildlife. A seagull was found in the UK with a disposable mask wrapped tightly around its legs. Thankfully, an RSPCA officer rescued the gull and set it free.
After encountering countless cases of wildlife entangled in the straps of disposable masks, RSPCA took to social media to beg people to ‘snip the straps’ before disposing of the masks.
“We have dealt with a heartbreaking 900 incidents of animals caught in litter since the start of lockdown – including animals tangled in face masks,” posted RSPCA.
Chris Sherwood, RSPCA chief executive, said in a statement:
“For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too – as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.
“Now that face masks are the norm, and may be for some time to come, this message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day. We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.
“Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect that this may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.”
Another UK-based animal rescue posted, “Reports of wildlife entangled in discarded face coverings appear to be increasing. Please remember to dispose of your masks correctly, and cut the strings to prevent injuries to wild animals. Thank you.”
Environmentalists are even labeling the single-use PPE litter as a “new type of pollution.” Disposable masks and gloves are already floating in the ocean and littering beaches. A study done by the University College London Plastic Waste Innovation Hub estimates that in the UK alone, if everyone used a single-use face mask a day for a year, it would create an additional 66,000 tons of contaminated waste and 57,000 tons of plastic packaging.
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French clean-up charity Opération Mer Propre said, “soon there is likely to be more masks than jellyfish in Mediterranean waters…!”
RSPCA urges people to help protect animals and the environment by recycling and cutting up any plastic bottles, cans, or packaging, and to use a reusable mask.
Andrea Powell is an animal enthusiast that resides in West Michigan. When not writing, she is exploring the great outdoors with her dogs and horses.