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How animals are affected by single-use pandemic plastics

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A team of researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax is looking into how single-use plastics related to the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting wildlife.

While masks, rapid test kits and sanitizing wipes have been effective tools in the fight against COVID-19, PhD student Justine Ammendolia says they’ve had an undeniable impact on wild animals around the world.

Her team, and researchers in the United Kingdom, analyzed photos of animals entangled with the plastics.

“It wasn’t just Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. It was actually 23 countries around the world we found results in,” said Ammendolia.

While photos of birds tangled in face masks or gloves were some of the most common, she says that could be because the animals live near people.

“It wasn’t just birds. We’re talking fish and crabs and animals you wouldn’t think of interacting with the face masks,” she said.

Oftentimes, she says masks can smell like a human's last meal, making them enticing to animals. And the elastic earloops can be like booby traps, said Ammendolia.

“If an animal gets their little foot stuck in, you know, trying to get out, it can be deadly.”

But it’s almost impossible to know the true extent personal protective equipment (PPE) has had on wildlife, she said. Her team was only searching for photos using English keywords. So while Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia came up the most frequently, Ammendolia says their search parameters limited their results.

To keep PPE out of the ecosystem, Ammendolia recommends disposing of them in a garbage can with a tightly-fitted lid.

“Think about an animal being able to climb into that, can take those masks out and put them into their nests.”

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