Amount of Plastic Waste Doubling Up in Coronavirus Crisis
The current coronavirus pandemic has posed difficult short-term choices between health and the environment. As the pandemic hits hard, it seems to be shifting the tide toward single-use plastics. Consequently, the amount of plastic waste is increasing in this global health crisis.
The pandemic has created a considerable increase in medical waste, in particular, plastic waste and its safe disposal is becoming a bigger concern. The Center for Disease Control has advised that medical waste from COVID-19 can be treated the same as other medical waste.
This treatment typically involves burning, steam sterilization, or chemical disinfectants before the waste is sent to a special landfill. However, the amount of waste is unnerving.
Increasing Plastic Waste
Supply chains are being strained to meet a surge in demand for single-use packaging and medical supplies. The personal protective equipment, the masks and gloves and other medical equipment, is made out of plastic and much of it is being carelessly disposed of in these stressful times. When PPE gets discarded in public areas, it ends up clogging sidewalk drains and washing into waterways.
Concern about safety and cross-contamination has caused statewide, municipal, and corporate revokes of single-use plastic ban and this has resulted in a heightened demand for bottled water, PPE, plastic bags and packaging.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many grocery stores have prohibited shoppers from bringing their own reusable bags and are handing out single-use plastic bags instead.
While such production is necessary, it is also generating tons of plastic waste. All this plastic waste ends up in landfills and environmental campaigners fear it is just the tip of a looming iceberg, with the pandemic causing a number of serious challenges to their efforts to reduce plastic pollution.
From people discarding plastic gloves and masks in cities across the world to important regulations on the use of plastic being scrapped, rolled back, or delayed, the problem has taken a back seat during one of the most significant public health crises of modern times.
Governments Revoked Bans on Single-Use Plastic
Several state governments in India such as Tamil Nadu have revoked bans of single-use plastic bottles and bags in retail trade. The United Kingdom has suspended the plastic bag charge for online deliveries, with Scotland delaying the introduction of a packaging deposit-return scheme.
Some fast food and retail chains, including Starbucks, have banned the use of reusable cups and food containers. In the United States, Maine has postponed a plastic bag ban, while New Hampshire and the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, have banned reusable bags during the outbreak and ordered retail stores to use single-use paper or plastic bags. New York State’s ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect as planned on March 1, although its enforcement was later postponed to May 15.
Though these measures have been announced as temporary, it is uncertain for how long they will stick. Plastic interest groups in the U.S. are seizing the opportunity to argue that hygiene concerns and longer shelf life for fresh produce are permanent advantages of single-use plastics.
Hundreds of the world’s jurisdictions that had introduced bans or fees on single-use plastic packaging have maintained their policies. In Africa, this includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, while Uganda banned plastic bags in late February alongside coronavirus containment measures.
It might be a need of the hour, but the waste this step is generating has been piling up the mounds of plastic waste.
Ocean Conservancy scientists worry that if the temporary rollbacks to plastic bans become permanent, it could undermine efforts to reduce single-use plastics and increase ocean plastic pollution going forward. According to the non-profit, plastic bags are devastating for the ocean.
PPE Adding to Ocean Plastic Burden
The demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has escalated highly across the globe amid the current coronavirus pandemic, as the governments rush to stockpile masks, gloves, visors and gowns.
It comes as a growing number of countries encourage or order their citizens to wear face coverings in public, once seen as a personal preference with minimal benefit, but now the preferred guidance in the US and much of Europe. while the moves are important from a public health perspective, one immediate impact is evident on streets around the world.
Global plastic production has increased four times over the past four decades, a 2019 study has revealed. The authors of this study warned that if the trend continued, the making of plastics will make up 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Amid all this chaos, PPE has posed a great threat to the oceans, which have already been choking under the weight of plastic.
Other studies have estimated that some 8 million tons of plastic end up in oceans annually, with the rate getting worse every year.
One can only hope, mankind will understand the shortcomings of this non-biodegradable product and will prevent its harmful impacts from damaging the ecosystems.