Scientific Study Says PPE Waste Harming Wildlife

Although masks have been mandated as a measure against COVID-19 around the world, there are cons to the face coverings. Especially if you wear glasses. A new scientific report outlines an additional downside to masks, along with other forms of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), noting that they inundate wildlife areas once wearers have discarded them. And, consequently, cause the kinds of heartbreaking entanglements usually associated with plastic six-pack rings and turtles.

A team of Dutch researchers has just published a study outlining the effects of PPE litter on wildlife, and they are deeply concerning.

Auke-Florian Hiemstra et al.

Science News picked up on the report, which a team of scientists recently published in the journal, Animal Biology. The lead authors of the study, both Dutch PhD researchers in the field of biology, say they came up with the idea for the study after finding a freshwater fish trapped in the finger of a rubber glove. The pair of researchers were cleaning up local canals when they came upon the fish.

With that single instance as inspiration, the two researchers, Auke-Florian Hiemstra and Liselotte Rambonnet, set out to measure the extent of COVID-19 PPE’s impact on the environment. And upon searching, they found thousands of examples of PPE litter from around the world. In large part thanks to the researchers’ #glovechallenge; an online hashtag repository that gathered 11,000 images of PPE litter from around the globe.

On top of the #glovechallenge, Hiemstra and Rambonnet also scanned the internet for other PPE litter reports. The researchers found, for example, another Dutch PPE litter project that itself had gathered more than 6,300 photos from people of gloves or face masks littering The Netherlands. And that was only between the months of May and June in 2020.

“Initially, these products were mainly found in close vicinity to supermarkets and healthcare institutions, but when face masks became compulsory in public transport, they were also increasingly being found near bus, tram, and train stations,” Hiemstra and Rambonnet write in their report. But “By now the use of face masks is mandatory or highly recommended in many countries…[and] as a consequence, the increase in production and consumption of PPE litter inevitably leads to interaction with animal life,” the researchers add.

Auke-Florian Hiemstra et al.

Auke-Florian Hiemstra et al.

Moving forward, the researchers are looking to document as many instances of animal-PPE interaction as possible. Hiemstra and Rambonnet have launched a site,, where people can report instances of PPE litter affecting animals. Each entry into the database includes an instance of, say, a seagull entangled in a mask. And, of course, stands as a stellar reminder that we all need to pick up our trash!

Feature image: Auke-Florian Hiemstra et al.

Top Stories
More by Matthew Hart
Trending Topics