Masks and other PPE items are now washing up on British beaches, horrified environmental groups say.
The blue face coverings have been found on beaches in Sussex and Suffolk in recent days.
And experts say they are not just being discarded by tourists but are washing down storm drains further inland.
Sussex Wildlife Trust issued a warning on the topic after finding dozens of the single-use items on beaches surrounding Brighton.
They say they have seen a spike in the amount of PPE debris they are picking up along the Sussex coastline.
The blue face coverings have been found on beaches in Sussex and Suffolk in recent days, environmental groups have warned
On a single day in June, 11 tonnes of rubbish was left on Brighton and Hove’s beaches – with dozens of masks among the debris.
Ella Garrud, the charity’s Living Seas Officer, said single use surgical masks and plastic gloves are now regularly being found along the coast.
She said PPE masks would not break down for an astonishing 450 years.
She said: ‘As coronavirus lockdown measures continue to ease, there has been a noticeable spike in the amount of rubbish being left on beaches as more people are able to spend more time at the coast.
‘Often, incoming tides will wash a lot of waste into the sea where it immediately becomes a threat to marine life. It is therefore vital that everyone takes home their litter and disposes of it properly.
Sussex Wildlife Trust issued a warning on the topic after finding dozens of the single-use items on beaches surrounding Brighton
‘With bins overflowing with rubbish, many people are choosing to simply leave their litter behind.
‘Although many councils employ people specifically to help clean beaches, it is impossible for them to collect everything.’
And a warning post on the group’s Facebook page added: ‘The pandemic itself has also unfortunately contributed to more plastic waste.
‘Single use face masks and plastic gloves are now being found amongst the other plastic litter, both on beaches and in our towns and cities.
‘Disposable masks are thought to have a lifespan of at least 450 years, so wearing reusable/washable face coverings can really help reduce waste.’
Brighton and Hove City Council is now issuing £150 on the spot fines for anyone who drops or leaves litter and officers are patrolling the beach from am to 7pm every day.
On a single day in June, 11 tonnes of rubbish was left on Brighton and Hove’s beaches – with dozens of masks among the debris
Campaigner Jason Alexander – who runs litter awareness group Rubbish Walks CIC – says he has seen masks on beaches in Lowestoft and Felixstowe, Suffolk.
He was recently pictured with dozens he’d picked up.
He said: ‘The vast majority of masks are obviously dropped by day trippers and to a lesser extent locals.
‘There are lots of volunteers and the local councils who are working hard to keep on top of the problem.’
And he added: ‘I’m seeing low numbers washed up but I guess that’s more to do with our location here in the east.
‘Bigger coastal towns on the south coast are likely to see higher numbers both dropped on land and washed up with the tide.’
Campaigning group Keep Britain Tidy said it too was now also seeing masks on beaches and said that some were washed down storm drains and out to sea, as storm drains do not connect to water treatment facilities.
And the Marine Conservation Society has recently warned about the issue too.
It carries out its Great British Beach Clean in September, and said: ‘The litter you record on your local clean-up will help us identify and create a snapshot of the litter that is still plaguing our environment, including new single-use items such as PPE.’
Meanwhile the furthest west coast of Ireland has also been plagued by the issue.
Charity Flossie and the Beach Cleaners found PPE on scenic Lissadell Beach in Sligo and Tullan Strand near Bundoran.
A spokeswoman said on Twitter: ‘Practically spotless, but still PPE can make its way here.’