Environmentalists are reporting a big increase in litter being thrown around streets, beaches, hiking trails and in the sea, despite the country being in partial lockdown for more than two months.

“I think the mask is going to be the new plastic bag,” says Malta Clean Up campaigner Cami Appelgren. While others have been staying at home, she has been going out alone to pick up rubbish and noticed a shift in the type of items being discarded. 

“I don’t know if it’s because people are afraid that masks and rubber gloves are contaminated after they use them or they can’t find bins to put them in, but I’m seeing a lot in natural spots, as well as in places like trolleys outside supermarkets,” she said.

She expressed concern about wildlife choking or ingesting the elastic bands from masks or the gloves. She is also worried about the environmental impact on soil and water, given that many of the materials used to make the disposable items will take hundreds of years to break down.

I’m seeing a lot in natural spots, as well as in places like trolleys outside supermarkets

And it is not just the land that’s being littered. Dive Master Genesis Jimenez, from Abyss Diving Club, says she and her co-workers have noticed an increase in masks tossed in the sea.

“On Tuesday alone we saw five masks on the surface of the water near Buġibba,” she said. The small company filmed one of the masks floating in the middle of a pile of cigarette butts and put the video on social media to highlight the problem.

Ecologist and habitat restoration expert Eman Calleja also noticed an increase in littering since the partial lockdown. Photos from his regular walks show more rubbish than usual in sites such as Chadwick Lakes, Mellieħa Red Tower and Qammiegħ Peninsula.

“Ever since the start of the lockdown, people have started going to the countryside in droves as an alternative to visiting people or going to restaurants,” said Eman. “The most popular places are those where access is available by car.”

Some were having picnics next to the car before dumping their wet wipes, plastic bottles and containers close to trees and bushes.

The further one moves from the car park, he said, the less rubbish.

While many believe more bins are the answer, the ecologist is not so sure. He believes rubbish cans lead to more litter as they are not emptied regularly enough, so they overflow and litter flies away or attracts vermin.

“We have a beautiful and unique countryside which we should be proud of, which unfortunately is finite. No one will pick it up after you, and it will most probably still be there when your great-grandchildren visit that same spot decades later.”

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