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'Can we not learn to stop trashing our environment' | Local photographer documents the new litter

"I started seeing these masks in parking lots, along curbs, on grass medians, sidewalks, just everywhere," Dean said.

SAN ANTONIO — As the spread of COVID-19 continues to change our social and professional lives, a San Antonio resident is documenting how the virus is affecting our environment. And he found that while some things change, some things stay the same.

When health experts began recommending masks in the summer of 2020, retired journalist and outdoor enthusiast Robert Dean says he started noticing discarded masks just about everywhere he went outdoors.

"I started seeing these masks in parking lots, along curbs, on grass medians, sidewalks, just everywhere," Dean said.

That's when he had the idea to photograph the "new litter", as he calls it. He began to take photos of mask trash whenever he saw it. 

Dean travels between Hawaii and San Antonio and said he was disturbed to find mask trash not just in urban places, but in parks, along river banks and at Hawaiian beaches. It was places in Hawaii that he was most surprised to see mask trash.

"The beaches and on rocks near the beaches, public restrooms and even on a phone box, which they still have in Hawaii," Dean said.

As he continued to focus on what was at our feet, he noticed other changes.

"I think it is interesting to see the changes in litter patterns, like fewer cigarette packs and fast food flotsam and jetsam and more COVID leavings," Dean said.

He says he did not intend to do a major public service but says the project and scope of the problem did affect him personally.

"It was just so easy to gather the pics. I never went out to deliberately take the shots, but just came across the masks constantly in my every day hikes, walks, and bicycle rides. It was actually funny to see the huge proliferation, even though the pandemic has not been funny," Dean said.

After taking hundreds of pictures, he gathered many of them in a video with the help of his son-in-law and posted it to social media.

He says he hopes the video can spark a conversation about how we interact with our environment and the types of products we use.

"Can we not learn to stop trashing our environment?" Dean asked. "Whether it is gum wrappers or the wide variety of face masks that were quickly developed for the pandemic. It is interesting that the homemade cloth type masks and other more expensive masks have been scarcer on the ground because people have more invested in them, and they can be re-used."

See the full video below:

Editor's note: Rob Dean is a family member of KENS 5 Digital Exec. Producer Kristin Dean and is a former broadcast news journalist who has worked in newsrooms through Texas, the United States and around the world.