While masks have been used to help protect New Jerseyans against contracting COVID-19, they can be harmful to the state environment and wildlife if people don't properly dispose of them.

John Bergmann, managing director of The Popcorn Park Animal Refuge in Forked River, has been spreading the word, urging and reminding New Jersey residents to cut the strings off disposable masks before tossing them away.

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It's kind of like when people buy a six pack of beer or soda and they would cut the plastic holes so animals would not get stuck in them.

Bergmann said he has seen pictures of ducks with masks stuck around their necks and he fears they won't be able to get them off, which could in turn harm or strangle them. The masks could also be accidentally ingested as wildlife try to get them off.  A picture was shared on the zoo's Facebook page showing a duck with a mask around its neck.

He's also seen pictures of other wildlife with masks wrapped around their legs. Bergmann said as the strings wrap tighter and tighter around their legs, they can potentially cut off an animal's circulation.

He also urged residents to throw the disposable masks in trash cans and not on the ground.

Even the material that a mask is made of is unhealthy for wildlife. Anything that is not normally meant to be digested by animals can get caught up in the intestines.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has reported that marine animals can easily choke or suffer from fatal bowel obstructions when they mistake personal protective equipment for food.

Bergmann said the masks are light and can easily blow out of a trash can, onto the ground and then into the possession of animals. So he suggested tying the masks with unattached strings tightly in a plastic bag and putting them garbage cans.

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