According to a recent study, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which has been massively used during the pandemic, is resulting in an added plastic litter to the planet. The masks and gloves used to protect people from Covid-19 are also proving to be a threat to the life of wildlife animals.
The study, published in the journal Animal Biology, is the first to analyze all the cases of entanglement, entrapping and ingestion of Covid-19 litter by animals.
Recently in the Netherlands, a fish entrapped in a medical glove was encountered during a canal clean-up in Leiden and cases of birds using medical face masks as nesting material found in the Dutch canals were reported, pointing fingers at the increasing threat the single-use latex gloves and masks pose to animals.
To place these observations into context, researchers collected all observations of interactions of animal life with COVID-19 litter reported online since the start of the pandemic.
They also searched news sites and social media posts from litter collectors, birdwatchers, wildlife rescue centres, and veterinarians and found many such incidents on land and in water globally.
A dead gull in Rotterdam hit by a car was found to have a face mask entangled around its legs. Although this entanglement may not have been the cause of its death, it may have weakened the bird as a chronic entanglement, says the study.
Other similar cases reported include a checkered pufferfish found dead after getting caught in a face mask near Miami Beach in the US, a shore crab killed by a mask in France, a hedgehog in the UK entangled in a glove, etc.
Covid-19 litter is also being ingested by animals, including multiple long-tailed macaques that were seen chewing on a face mask in Malaysia. Many pet animals like dogs were also found to swallow masks.
"Animals become weakened due to becoming entangled, or starve due to the plastic in their stomach," said Liselotte Rambonnet from Leiden University in the Netherlands, one of the authors of the report.
According to the beach-cleaning volunteers, items of PPE were found on nearly a third of the beaches surveyed in the UK in September.
The study aims to increase people's awareness of the danger to the wildlife of discarding masks and gloves. The researchers have urged people to use reusable face masks or snip the straps and cut off the disposable face masks before discarding them so that animals from getting entangled.