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Blogs and Stories

October 12, 2020
Amy Wade Carotenuto

Just Cut It Out

Could the disposable mask that you toss aside entangle and kill wildlife?

A recent study from The Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that, worldwide, people are using and throwing away an estimated 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion disposable gloves every month. That’s Billion with a “B” and the figure has environmental groups worried.

As the world battles coronavirus, more and more protective equipment is ending up on the ground in our neighborhoods, in the forest and in the sea.

Improperly disposing of used PPE poses an environmental risk and potentially could be spreading the vary virus it is used to protect us from.

Plastic pollution including medical gloves and masks, already posed enormous threats to animals before the COVID-19 crisis began. According to World Animal Protection, every year, an estimated 136,000 seals, sea lions, and large whales die from plastic entanglement. Smaller species like birds and sea turtles die in immeasurable numbers. Now that mask-wearing is a part of daily life in many places, conservationists fear that these numbers will dramatically increase.

PPE can be mistaken as food by birds, fish, marine mammals and other animals. The gloves, masks and sanitizing wipes break down into microplastics that attract pesticides and other harmful chemicals. When the wildlife eats the litter, they don’t just get the plastic, they get the chemicals as well.

PPE should not be recycled. it’s potentially contaminating other clean products.” It should be thrown in the trash, but please go by this rhyme…

“Cut the Strap before you Scrap”.

Hundreds of animals have already been rescued from disposable mask entanglement in recent months, alerting us to the importance of snipping mask straps before throwing them away. There are also those animals who don’t get rescued. Their death caused by ingestion of our litter or by entanglement which often causes them a slow death.

In July BBC News featured images captured by photographer Steve Shipley of an endangered peregrine falcon struggling to free his talons that were caught up in a disposable mask. The juvenile was ultimately able to un-tangle itself, but if the falcon had not been able to free it’s talons, the mask would have compromised it’s ability to hunt and feed and could have resulted in death.

To prevent further suffering and tragedy, please cut your mask strings prior to throwing away the disposable face coverings, similarly to how it’s now common practice in many households to snip plastic six-pack rings before discarding them to avoid harming wildlife.

Reports state that some PPE has a lifespan up to 450 years, so they are an ecological timebomb of consequences for our planet.

We must live up to our responsibility to dispose of dirty sanitizing wipes, latex gloves and single-use, masks properly, and avoid creating waste whenever possible by resorting to eco-friendly alternatives.

We at Flagler Humane Society hope that people will purchase reusable masks or face shields. Also, sometimes it’s best to swap latex gloves for more frequent handwashing.

Thank you for doing your part to keep all animals safe. (and humans too!)
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