New study reveals stark reality of pandemic litter on our environment

·2 min read
Photo credit: Neurone89 / Getty Images
Photo credit: Neurone89 / Getty Images

A new study has revealed the shocking reality of how much single-use plastic waste has been created off the back of the pandemic. Items include masks, personal protection equipment (PPE), disposable gloves, testing kits and anti-bacterial wipes – and they are having a devastating impact on animals around the world.

Researchers from Dalhousie University gathered data from social media platforms which included images of animals that had become entangled in such items. Between April 2020 and December 2021, the team recorded 114 incidents in 23 countries, with the majority involving birds.

Photo credit: E4C / Getty Images
Photo credit: E4C / Getty Images

Of those occurrences, nine animals were found dead because of their direct contact with PPE. The majority of the sightings were in the United States (29), England (16), Canada (13), Australia (11) and the Netherlands (10).

It is estimated that around 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves were used for each month of the pandemic.

“With widespread presence in the environment, such items pose a direct threat to wildlife as animals can interact with them in a series of ways. Therefore, it is necessary to learn from this event, and assess the full impact that plastic waste from the pandemic has had on our global fauna and environments,” the researchers wrote.

Photo credit: Philippe Gerber / Getty Images
Photo credit: Philippe Gerber / Getty Images

“It is crucial that we identify opportunities to improve our waste management infrastructure, so that we can prevent similar leakages during the inevitable future pandemics.”

This study comes shortly after another estimated that more than 25,000 tonnes of PPE and other types of Covid-related plastic waste has entered the Earth's oceans. With almost three quarters, 71%, expected to wash up on beaches by the end of the year, according to their model.

What can we do?

The City of Westminster website states: "Please never put any PPE (i.e. gloves, masks, wipes, cloths) in your recycling bin/bag under any circumstances. They are not suitable for recycling."

For official disposal advice, read the guidelines from DEFRA.

Photo credit: gorsh13 / Getty Images
Photo credit: gorsh13 / Getty Images
Photo credit: gorsh13 / Getty Images
Photo credit: gorsh13 / Getty Images
Photo credit: Andriy Nekrasov / Getty Images
Photo credit: Andriy Nekrasov / Getty Images

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