The RSPCA has issued a reminder that straps should be cut off disposable face masks before they are thrown away. Face masks have become a normal part of everyday life, but they can be dangerous for animals. Hundreds of animals needed to be rescued during lockdown after becoming caught in used masks. This had led to the appeal by the RSPCA, which asks people to cut the straps off masks when they are no longer needed, and then ensure that they are disposed of correctly.
The charity has dealt with more than 900 incidents of animals becoming entangled in waste since the beginning of the year. This has included plastic bottles, tin cans and elastic bands, as well as masks. This most recent appeal also asks people to cut up any six-pack rings before throwing them away. Cutting up six-pack rings is something that the public is largely aware of now due to previous appeals that have been made by the RSPCA. They are hopeful that the new message about face masks is taken on board by the public just as well.
The message is particularly important in the current climate because it seems as if face masks will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. This means there are potentially thousands of masks being thrown away daily. The RSPCA are particularly concerned about the impact that the masks will have on birds and wild animals. This is a problem that can be easily addressed by cutting off the elastic straps before the mask is disposed of.
The RSPCA was called to a case in Chelmsford during lockdown that demonstrated the problems that the straps of the mask can cause for birds. They received reports of a seagull that was struggling to walk, and when they arrived they discovered that a mask had gotten wrapped around his legs. The elastic straps were so tight that they had caused his joints to become swollen and sore. He has since recovered well at an RSPCA centre and has been placed in an aviary with other gulls that have been rescued. The whole flock will be released back into the wild at the same time. The RSPCA officer that attended this case, Adam Jones, spoke at the time about the need to ensure that all litter is disposed of carefully, and in a way that does not risk it becoming a problem for wildlife.
There are also concerns about the impact that disposable masks are having on the environment. Environmental charities have been worried for some time about the amount of plastic waste that finds itself ending up in rivers and seas. Disposable masks often contain plastic and there is a real fear that this could make a bad situation even worse. Greenpeace has urged people to consider using reusable masks, which are just as safe as disposable ones but do not have the same negative impact on the environment.
This plea has also been echoed by PETA, who have their concerns about how animals will be affected by any increase in plastic waste. They have cited examples of when birds have died after becoming entangled in plastic waste. If disposable PPE ends up in rivers or oceans then it may be eaten by marine animals that believe it is food. This can lead to fatal bowel obstructions. They have urged anyone outside of a medical setting to avoid single-use PPE.