Unmasking the threat wildlife faces from face masks3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
In a twist to the tale, face masks that are meant to save lives are harming the environment!
How did we get here?
Masks have been mandated all over the world owing to the spread of COVID-19. Most of them are single-use masks that are discarded on a daily basis.
Imagine the number of masks in landfills?
These thin protective materials take nothing less than a hundred years to decompose. Also, not all of them are discarded responsibly. Pavements, beaches, and waterways are littered with these masks.
In Malaysia, macaques have beens spotted chewing the straps of old masks. This is a choking hazard for the small primates. In Britain, a seagull was rescued after its feet were ensnared in the straps of a mask for a week.
The biggest impact is in waterways with protective gear like masks and gloves finding a final resting spot in it.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations
Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans, that already have 150 million tonnes present in them.
Last year, more than 1.5 billion masks made their way into the world’s oceans. This led to an additional 6,200 tonnes of plastic waste to the aquatic environment.
Conservationists found a mask in the stomach of a dead penguin washed ashore In Brazil, and a dead pufferfish caught in one in Miami.
On breaking down, these masks form smaller particles that enter the food chain. Thus, they become a part of the entire ecosystem!
If you have pets at home, you have to be extra careful!
In Massachusetts, a pet-mom reported that her two-year-old Labrador swallowed two face masks leading to a critical surgery to save the canine’s life!
She noticed that something was off when King refused to eat at all. The metal from the fitted nosepiece further complicated his condition.
But King survived because of timely detection!
What can we do?
The safety of one species cannot happen at the cost of another. So, here are two things we can do to ensure that masks only perform the function they were meant for.
Proper disposal: It is important to ensure that we do not litter. Masks need to be disposed off with other plastic refuse. Also, it is advisable to cut off the straps from the masks on disposal so that an animal or bird does not get caught in them.
Use reusable masks: Some masks can be reused if washed regularly. A shift from single-use masks to these reusable masks can help the cause.
Let one disaster not make us forget about another looming overhead! The world is our responsibility and little efforts can go a long way.