The rising tide of plastic waste amid the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a major concern for environmentalists globally.
The pandemic has necessitated the use of several plastic-made non-recyclable products, like gloves, and personal protective equipment (PPE), to stop coronavirus transmission among humans. Some countries have even taken back or delayed the ban on plastic bags, fearing hygiene laxity in reusable alternatives. This rising tide of plastic waste is taking the world towards an imminent potential risk.
According to environmentalists, cheap plastic can become a new trend in the market soon. The reason is the historic lowering of the non-recycled or virgin plastic prices and reduction of the oil demand.
What are the prime sources of this rising tide of plastic waste?
- COVID-19 Protection Kits & Medical Waste
Even though the World Health Organization has recommended fabric masks as a weapon to fight against COVID-19, the use of surgical masks and latex gloves has been continuously escalating. The inappropriate disposal of these masks increases health risks not only for humans but also for other living creatures.
OperationMerPropre, an environmental NGO, reported the spotting of dozen of gloves and masks from French Riviera during a cleaning operation last month.
- Dining Out
Amid the risk of coronavirus outspread, several outlets, like McDonald’s, Dunkin, and Starbucks, temporarily discontinued their tradition of bring-your-own reusable cups and switched to disposables. Furthermore, the take-out operations of fast-food chains and restaurants during lockdown has raised the use of single-use cutlery and containers.
The shuttering of shopping complexes and grocery stores during lockdown shot up the e-commerce sector. In the US alone, online shopping has gone up by almost three times as compared to the last year.
The more online retail has increased, the more the packaging of both – paper and plastic has increased. From California to New York, several states have either postponed or reversed their plastic ban policies, calling it the safest way of transporting food amid COVID-19 pandemic.
The Environmental Democracy Practice’s WRI’s Director, Carole Excell, calls the increased application of single-use plastic an “alarming signal” for the future. As per her, for meeting our immediate short-term needs, we are neglecting its long-term consequences.
What are the planned measures to control plastic waste generation?
- For controlling the inappropriate disposal of face masks and gloves, France is planning to raise littering fines to $151.
- Health Care Without Harm has designed a toolkitfor fighting plastic pollution in hospitals. It includes a plastic audit guide, which suggests that while reusable drinking cups may not come back to canteens anytime soon post-pandemic, some plastic-alternatives like paper straws and cardboard applicator tampons will continue to be effective.
- Medical centers are exploring reusable PPE options. According to the Practice Green Health report, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center prevented the generation of 297 tons of waste by adopting reusable isolation gowns in 2012.
- Excell advises countries to improve the plastic recycling industry, as controlling the production of plastic amid pandemic seems infeasible for now.
According to Ocean Panel, there is no safe place on the globe to dispose of the damaging pollutants so that they do not harm the nature and living creatures.
As noted by CNBC, only 9% of all plastic is recycled, while the rest of it ends up in landfills or water bodies. A 2019 study revealed that plastic waste of about 13m tones, equivalent to a garbage truck per minute, ends up in the ocean every year. The study predicted plastic manufacturing to contribute about 15% in greenhouse gas emission by 2050 if the current trends continue.