It’s becoming a common sight to see face masks haplessly strewn across our streets after people have finished with them.
But other than being unsightly and annoying to look at, it seems that they’re doing more harm than might initially meet the eye.
Animal charity, the RSPCA is urging people to ‘snip the straps’ from their disposable face masks, after it was been revealed they have helped more than 900 animals caught in litter since the start of lockdown.
In Somerset there has been 12 recorded incidents of animals getting trapped by rubbish with over double in Dorset at 26.
In Bristol there has been three, and in Gloucestershire 12.
Dumped face masks have become a new hazard to wildlife since the pandemic started and the animal charity has received reports of animals tangled in the ear straps of single-use masks since it became law for the public to wear them in shops.
One such incident includes a gull who was found to have a face mask tightly round his legs.
Despite the face mask causing swelling to his legs, the bird has now fully recovered – but it is just one example as to how dangerous face masks can be to animals.
Since lockdown started on 23 March, the RSPCA has dealt with 938* incidents of animals caught in litter, including tin cans, elastic bands and plastic bottles.
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Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said: “For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too – as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.
“Now that face masks are the norm, and may be for some time to come, this message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day. We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.
“Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect that this may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.”
Other heartbreaking litter-related incidents which the RSPCA has dealt with since the start of lockdown include:
A fox who got his head stuck in a plastic bottle in Portsmouth, which resulted in the fox suffering deep cuts to his neck. Thankfully, after treatment at an RSPCA centre, he was released back into the wild.
A gull skewered by a kebab stick which had been left on the side of a road in Clifton, Bristol. Sadly the stick was so deeply embedded in the gull that he did not make it.
A fox who was found with his head stuck in a large plastic reel in a car park in Littlehampton, East Sussex. The fox was uninjured and was released.
Most cases of litter affecting animals are preventable if rubbish is disposed of properly and responsibly.
Animals looking for food can get trapped in tin cans and the sharp edges can cause injury. The RSPCA is encouraging people to clean and empty food containers before pinching them shut or cutting them in half before putting them in the recycling.
Elastic bands are also said to pose a big risk to small animals and birds as they can wrap around their bodies or beaks and cause choking and other injuries. To avoid this people are encouraged to reuse them where possible or cut them open before throwing them away.
Broken glass can cause serious injury and small animals can get trapped in jars and bottles so please clean and recycle glass as much as possible.
Plastic bags can suffocate animals or, if they eat them, can cause them to choke or can block their digestive system. Tie bags in knots before recycling, and plastic can holders can cause deep wounds to animals that get tangled in them or can even choke them so it’s best to cut the loops before discarding.
The RSPCA’s top tips to protect wildlife from litter:
Recycle and reuse as much as possible – and put everything else in the bin;
Cut the loop handles of plastic carrier bags before recycling to prevent animals being tangled;
Cut plastic can holders and elastic bands so animals can’t get caught up;
Cut up balloons before putting them in the bin;
Cut up disposable gloves and snip the straps on face masks to prevent animals getting tangled;
Clean and empty containers after use and pinch cans shut or cut containers in half before recycling.
The RSPCA is continuing its vital work rescuing animals during the Coronavirus crisis.
To help the charity keep rescuing animals and keep our animal hospitals and centres running for emergency treatment and round the clock care through these unprecedented times, please donate whatever you can spare here.