Discarded Covid-19 Masks and Plastic Gloves Are Killing Wildlife

Biologists are finding single-use items are entrapping and entangling animals all over the globe


April 15, 2021

Twenty-eight incidents where wildlife was harmed by PPE were recorded and the first documented case included an American Robin found wrapped up in a mask in Canada, in April 2020. (SANDRA DENISUK, A.-F. HIEMSTRA ET AL/ANIMAL BIOLOGY 2021

When the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold and mask mandates were put in place, some researchers predicted an "environmental disaster" that could "last generations." Improperly discarded single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as disposable masks and latex gloves, could harm wildlife and exacerbate plastic pollution, Marie Fazio reported for the New York Times last summer.

Now, researchers have published a new report in the journal Animal Biology that offers a first look into how animals are handling the aftermath of PPE litter, reports Anne Pinto-Rodrigues for Science News.

In their paper, the scientists described various instances during which animals died after ingesting or becoming entangled in PPE that was not disposed of properly. For example, a penguin in Brazil swallowed a mask while hedgehogs and foxes in the United Kingdom got tangled in masks as well, reports Damian Carrington for the Guardian. In August 2020, volunteers cleaning up canals in Leiden, Netherlands, came upon a small European perch (Perca fluviatilis) wedged inside of the thumb of a disposable latex glove, reports Jessica Leigh Hester for Atlas Obscura.



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