The coronavirus pandemic is generating a rising tide in all things plastic.
Some increases have been driven by necessity: Personal protective equipment (PPE) of masks, gloves, gowns and visors have been crucial in protecting medical staff and other frontline workers from Covid-19 transmission.
Other spikes in single-use plastics are a reaction to navigating a new world of potential risks. Plastic bag bans have been reversed or delayed in some countries and in US states due to hygiene fears over reusable alternatives.
Many restaurants and fast food chains have swung to take-out operations, bringing with them a mountain of disposable utensils and containers. Major players, like Starbucks, Dunkin and McDonald’s, have put a hold on bring-your-own reusable cups.
With the price for virgin, or non-recycled, plastic now at historic lows and oil demand reduced, environmentalists fear that producers will pump out cheap plastic to stoke demand and soak up some of the global glut of cheap oil and gas. Plastic wastepiles are mounting in parts of Asia and with some recycling firms struggling to operate, plastic pollution looks set to rise.
“The notion that things can be thrown away is a myth,” World Resources Institute (WRI) says. “There is no ‘away’ for damaging pollutants to go where they will not harm ecosystems, plant and animal health and, ultimately, human health.”
Some 13m tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year – the equivalent of a garbage truck every minute – and if current trends continue, plastic manufacturing will make up 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to a 2019 study.
So, where’s it all coming from and what can be done to tackle the plastic glut?
PPE: Improperly disposed of masks and gloves are not only a public health risk but an environmental threat, particularly for marine life.
Although the World Health Organisation recommends fabric masks for social distancing, there has been increased use of latex gloves and surgical masks, some made with non-woven fabric that can’t be recycled.
Environmental NGO, OperationMerPropre, last month found dozens of masks and gloves floating off the Cote D’Azur in France during a clean-up operation.Source: Independent