Littered masks and gloves are harming and even killing animals
TORONTO -- Discarded masks and medical gloves have littered the streets since the outset of the pandemic, and it wasn’t long before they claimed their first victim: a robin in British Columbia that became entangled in a mask.
That bird's death in April 2020 is the first of many chronicled in new research in in Animal Biology. Researchers set out to see how animals were being impacted by the increase in littered personal protective equipment.
The researchers, Dutch biologists Auke-Florian Hiemstra and Liselotte Rambonnet, wanted to identify just how often animals were coming into contact with PPE, and where they were encountering it.
As it turns out, animals are suffering from wasted PPE globally, the study found. The robin in Chilliwack, B.C. may have been the first to fall victim, but soon a penguin in Brazil was found with a face mask in its stomach. Macaques were seen chewing on masks in Malaysia. Even cats and dogs have eaten COVID-19 litter, according to the study.
Animals have also been spotted using PPE as part of their nesting material. Birds in the Netherlands used face masks in their nests. An octopus in France was seen hiding under a face mask.
The researchers say that COVID-19 litter is just another product of our single-use society and that more research is needed to see the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 litter on animals globally.
The researchers suggest that people opt for reusable PPE options instead of single-use masks and gloves. They ask that people who encounter animals interacting with COVID-19 litter submit evidence to their website.