Wearing a mask is a pretty decent and responsible thing to do right now. When you put on a mask you're essentially saying, 'hey, I actually give half a shit about the people around me' – and that's absolutely grand. But one unfortunate side effect of this shitty pandemic is that masks, as well as gloves and other PPE, are ending up as litter in our streets, beaches, and oceans.
While this sucks for a myriad of reasons, one of the main issues is poor little animals getting tangled in the mask straps. Obviously that's heartbreaking, but I'm not going to tell you not to wear a disposable face mask. We're all doing the best we can right now. But one thing I am going to ask you to do is snip the straps before you throw out your mask – that simple quick act will potentially save a seagull's life, or fish, or whichever unfortunate creature finds themselves tangled in one.
Canadian content creators @swon.studios on Instagram, have created this handy post to spread awareness of the issue:
"A lot of us are using disposable face masks right now and that's great but what do you do with it afterwards?" They wrote in the widely-shared post. "Make sure you cut the straps when you dispose your masks. It's heartbreaking to see birds/animals tangled in them."
French non-profit Opération Mer Propre, which translates to Operation Clean Sea, and whose undertakings include regularly picking up litter along the French Riviera, have warned that "soon we'll run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean." These comments came after it was revealed that France had ordered two billion disposable masks.
Hong Kong based OceansAsia has voiced similar concerns over face masks after a survey of marine debris in the city's uninhabited Soko Islands. "On a beach about 100 metres long, we found about 70," Gary Stokes of OceansAsia told The Guardian. A week later, 30 more masks had washed up. "And that's on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere."
"It's just another item of marine debris," said Stokes, comparing masks to the epidemic of plastic bags and straws that continuously wash up on the city's more remote shorelines. "It's no better, no worse, just another item we're leaving as a legacy to the next generation."
According to a 2018 estimate by UN Environment, as much as 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into oceans every year. Our need for masks is vastly increasing that number. I know, the last thing you need right now is more anxiety. But the good news is that there's at least a tiny thing you can do that will make a positive impact and will only take two seconds. Snip your mask straps before disposing. It's not going to reverse the absolute pile of shit we as a collective are digging ourselves further and further into with each day that passes, but you may just save the life of a cute lil fish or seagull. So go on, give it a snip.