Disposable masks that helped save lives during the Covid-19 pandemic are proving a deadly hazard for wildlife, with birds and marine creatures ensnared in the staggering number of discarded facial coverings littering animal habitats.
There is only 10% of the UK population wearing reusable face masks, meaning 53
million masks end up in landfills every day. In addition, there is an untraceable number abandoned elsewhere, polluting green space, streams, rivers and oceans like never before.
Primarily, there are health concerns over the disposal of contaminated face masks. A recent study showed that coronaviruses can remain on surfaces for up to nine days; and the UK government recommends waiting at least 72 hours before discarding your mask.
The potential biohazards connected with every discarded mask, similar to those associated with disposing of needles and syringes, risk re-spreading the very virus they are designed to protect against.
As for the face masks which end up in the ocean, they simply add to the eight million tonne mass of plastic entering the sea every year. The various plastics break down extremely slowly into micro-plastics which then filter into marine food chains with disastrous consequences.
Micro-marine-plastics hold onto toxins and contaminants; plants and animals then absorb or ingest these substances, poisoning and killing them.
It seems that face masks, essential as they are for preventing the spread of Coronavirus, are just adding to already great concerns over plastic pollution and the resulting wildlife and human health impacts.
But face masks needn’t be added to this list of concerns; purchasing disposable plastic face masks is highly unnecessary given the booming market of reusable ones, some of which use wonderful, culturally expressive designs.
“Face masks aren’t going away any time soon — but when we throw them away, these items can harm the environment and the animals who share our planet,” Ms. Ashley Fruno of animal rights group PETA.
Please consider using a reusable cloth facemask or ensure you dispose of your mask properly and #CutTheStraps to prevent wildlife such as birds, fish and mammals from becoming entangled in them.