Discarded coronavirus facemasks are another pollution problem for wildlife

Seagull with face mask
Seagull with face mask

Seagull with face mask. Still image from tweet.

NEWS AND COMMENT: It’s extraordinary to report that an expat (and his friend) living in France campaigning about litter picked up more than 6,000 discarded coronavirus facemasks during his fifty-nine day walk. His name is Ed Platt. He is on a campaign to highlight France’s litter problem. He wants to convince Parisien’s to stop throwing away cigarette butts and coronavirus facemasks and everything else. And he’d like pedestrians to pick up the facemasks and dispose of them properly. Platt and Frederic Munsch set out from Paris on October 1 on their long walk and they were stopped seven times by police for breaching the lockdown rules but they weren’t fined.

Please note that sometimes embedded tweets such as the one above stop working over time because of reasons beyond my control. If it has happened I’m sorry.


In the course of his 550-mile journey, he stopped at schools to talk to the children about the problems of polluting the environment. Facemasks can harm wildlife as the picture above highlights. He asked the children if they had seen someone throwing away a facemask onto the ground and all the kids he was speaking to put their hands up. It seems they have a facemask throwaway culture in parts of France. It is probably not dissimilar in the UK although often it is facemasks slipping out of pockets accidentally. There is certainly a new pollution problem and it has arisen out of the coronavirus pandemic in the form of facemasks.

Bird killed by a coronavirus facemask

Bird killed by a coronavirus facemask. Photo: Facebook page of Sandra Denisuk.

The BBC, on 4 September 2020, published an article entitled, “Coronavirus: Face masks part of a new plastic pollution explosion“. The biggest problem of this form of pollution is that these masks often end up in the sea. This may surprise people. It surprises me to a certain extent because how do the masks get from pavements to the sea and oceans? It is estimated that 194 billion disposable face masks and gloves are used monthly worldwide. More and more often many of them are ending up floating on the sea or being washed up on shorelines.

Gary Stokes, co-founder of marine conservation group OceansAsia, shown holding up the coronavirus facemasks that he recovered from a Hong Kong beach

Gary Stokes, co-founder of marine conservation group OceansAsia, shown holding up the coronavirus facemasks that he recovered from a Hong Kong beach. The photograph was taken on March 7, 2020 by Yoyo Chow/Reuters.

Coronavirus facemasks are getting caught up in the feet of birds as well as harming marine wildlife. This must jeopardise their existence. There are photos of seagulls carrying face masks. In the UK, on Weston-super-Mare’s beach there were lots of facemasks with a seagull carrying one of them. I’ve seen a photograph of a seagull feeding its young with plastic. Yes, literally feeding its young with inedible plastic believing it is food. No doubt the young seagull died. I don’t know what seagulls do with facemasks. They apparently pick at them perhaps believing they are nutritious but it is a stark contrast; nature confronting human pollution on the seashore.