Repurposed Mascara Wands Help Orphaned Wildlife

Earth Day "wandraiser" is collecting used wands to help rehab groups.

squirrel is groomed with a mascara wand

Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

When tiny turtles, baby birds, or itsy opossums are rescued, they often need a lot of specialized care. They can have fly eggs, larvae, and other pests in their fur and on their skin and it can be painstaking work to remove them.

Wildlife rehabbers have found that clean mascara wands can make it easier to care for these creatures and it repurposes an item that would’ve ended up in a landfill.

Wands for Wildlife, a nonprofit that collects and distributes wands, has donated 500,000 used wands and 930,000 unused wands over the past five years. They’re in the middle of an Earth Month "wandraiser," hoping to raise awareness and collect more tools throughout April.

The idea spread quickly about five years ago when Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit sanctuary in North Carolina, asked for donations of clean, used wands. 

“Home-based rehabbers look for tools around the home to use in their work (they are mostly volunteers not getting paid),” Kimberly 'Tashi' Brewster, founder and executive director of Wands for Wildlife, tells Treehugger. “Using a mascara wand is a 'tip of the trade' in caring for injured and orphaned wild animals.”

The refuge immediately received package after package filled with wands. Since that initial request in 2017, about 1.5 million wands were sent in and shared with wildlife rehabbers around the country.

The initiative was so successful that a group of volunteers transformed it into a nonprofit in June 2020. They knew it would be challenging during the pandemic, but they pushed ahead anyway, Brewster says.

Less Waste and More Help

volunteer sorts mascara wands
A volunteer sorts mascara wands.

Wands for Wildlife

The tools are received in what volunteers call a “wand wave.” They had several really big swells of thousands of wands in 2017 and 2019 with calm in between as wands trickled in. They had to stop accepting wands for a time. This is the first time the organization has been open to donations from the public since the nonprofit was launched.

The wands have been shared with more than 130 wildlife rehab facilities and 100 home-based rehabbers, as well as through many state wildlife symposiums. The wands are packaged in kits with other supplies, often including latex gloves, syringes, and formula. The nonprofit also gathers supplies during baby season and raises funds for incubators.

Wands are used on injured and orphaned animals including bunnies and birds, squirrels and box turtles. Because the bristles are so tightly packed, they’re perfect for removing fly eggs and larva from fur and feathers, as well as for grooming and cleaning equipment such as syringes and bottles.

During April, the group hopes to raise awareness, support rehabbers, and keep items out of the trash.

“By collecting used wands, we extend the life of a disposable plastic item and provide an opportunity for the public to support wildlife care,” Brewster says. “The action of sending in wands also acts as a physical reminder of the waste we generate and acts a catalyst for deeper conversations on how to implement/adopt more sustainable choices in our daily lives.”

More than 21,000 people, businesses, schools, scouting troops, and other organizations have sent in wands. Businesses with discontinued or damaged inventory have sent nearly 1 million wands that would’ve been thrown away. Wands have been donated from every state in the U.S. and from many places around the world including Australia, Cambodia, Finland, Italy, Poland, Serbia, and Spain.

“What has amazed me the most is seeing how this initiative has no borders,” Brewster says. “It is a show of empathy and compassion from individuals around the world. That alone makes this effort worth it!”

Wands are also used with artists, groups, schools, and summer camps for art and education projects.

To send in used wands, soak them first in hot, soapy water and use an old toothbrush to remove any leftover mascara. Dry completely before packaging. Enclose a wand donation form and be sure to ship with enough postage.

View Article Sources
  1. Kimberly 'Tashi' Brewster, founder and executive director of Wands for Wildlife

  2. "About." Wands for Wildlife.

  3. Kimberly 'Tashi' Brewster, founder and executive director of Wands for Wildlife