Plastic Pollution during COVID 19 - Seeker's Thoughts

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Plastic Pollution during COVID 19

Covid-19 has already shaken the world; it’s unimaginable how badly it’s impacting everything. It has led to a new pandemic of plastic pollution.

In 2018, China started to control and ban plastic waste imports; right after that, almost every developed nation has been moving to reduce plastic wastes.

Also, Read... The reasons for Marine Pollution

The goal was to eliminate single-use plastic products such as bags, cutlery, and other plastic products.

However, due to this unprecedented pandemic, which took all over 2020, what humans supposed to do? Protecting health or the environment?

There is a drastic increase in demand for personal protective equipment made up of various plastic and rubber items.

Plastic has become essential in this era of a pandemic. The dependence on non-recyclable items such as plastic-lined masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and personal protective equipment (PPE). There has also been a drastic increase in day to day items such as plastic bags and delivering packing,

 Most importantly, gloves are essential for health workers; some gloves are biodegradable because their material is extracted from rubber trees, nitrile, and vinyl gloves made from synthetic polymers that are not biodegradable.

Protective gear is creating the mess, but other medical equipment is also impacting the environment. 

For instance, the most important material to make surgical masks is a melt-blown polymer, most commonly polypropylene PP., which can be beneficial shield microbes and droplets. For the same reason, non-woven PP is also widely used to make protective clothing for medical heroes.

More than that, there are many other fresh and clean items widely used in the medical sector for creating a clean and hygienic environment, such as pill casing, disposal syringes, catheters, and blood bags. Most of the items are made of synthetic polymers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and PP, which are not biodegradable.

Pandemic is not making chaos around the world but creating another burden of generating tons of medical waste.

If we look at ground level conditions and increasing the amount of plastic waste is not only caused by the medical sector, the world had been in strict lockdown, social distancing rules have been introduced, and we are practicing better hygiene than usual days.

The use of polythene gloves is more commonly used by people going out for essentials for shopping or another purpose to avoid touching surfaces. Polythene is the same polymer used for plastic shopping bags worldwide, which was already the main threat to the environment.

Amid COVID-19, there is a high spike in-home delivery of food and take away, which has increased the high amount of disposable meal boxes are being used. They are also made of PP of polystyrene.

A report prepared by McKinsey in 2018 estimated that we generate 350 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, of which only 16% is recycled globally.

WHO estimates that the people on earth are using about 89 million masks and 16 million gloves each month – the amount of plastic waste it’s generating is much higher than that estimated in the McKinsey report two years back.

Now it’s imaginable how much we are screwing earth in every way to save ourselves.

Many countries and states like UK, California, and South Australia have recently called off the ban on single-use plastic to reduce the coronavirus risk. Some experts suggest that the coronavirus might actually persist on plastics than on other materials.

In India, there is a plastic waste management momentum in its fight for the effective management of plastic waste in 2019. The Indian prime minister called for a people’s movement to prevent the use of single-use plastic and to ensure proper disposal of all plastic waste.

Thailand had banned disposable plastic bags at big stores in January and had planned to slash plastic waste completely in 2020, now expects to see a high rise in waste by as much as 30%.

Whereas in Indonesia, about 63,000 workers were recently laid off in the recycling industry. Another movement call Bring Your Own (BYO) started in Singapore in 2017,

Buyers were urged to bring their own utensils to restaurants to reuse and recycle, which has received a blow with global giants such as Starbucks doing away with their “Bring your Own Cups” policy due to pandemic.

In Uganda, they started another initiative by melting plastic waste to make face shields sold for just a dollar each.

In Singapore, they started using stainless steel cups and bamboo boxes, which can be returned and reused after being washed and sanitized.

So what now? Just have to wait for ending the pandemic when damage is at the peak?

Currently, we have achieved only a plastic recycling rate of less than 10%. The pandemic might pose safety issues to waste recycling workers. The recent lockdown has hampered the ability to process recyclable waste properly.

The reason plastic has become essential to us, for protecting health. This is why we have been facing huge challenges to reduce plastic waste while maintaining our existing lifestyle.

This pandemic might be just temporary, but plastic pollution could be long-lasting forever. If some efficient step has not been taken, it would severely negatively impact health, wildlife, and the environment in the long term.

How can we minimize the negative impact of plastic waste on our health and the environment?

Plastic has never been a problem, but the handling of it is. We need plastic but no single use of plastic, which is extremely difficult to dispose of effectively, and that is where the problem lies. It is essential to understand this distinction. There is a need to change our behavior and lifestyle with efficiently managing the waste.

Reducing or even avoiding the use of plastic unnecessary could help reduce plastic waste. Using disposable plastic is unavoidable and remains an important option, especially if it’s about hygiene and convenience. However, using disposables does not necessarily mean more pollution.

Disposables can be made from biomass resources or of biodegradable or compostable plastics. Most importantly, “biodegradable” plastics can be decomposed into harmless, small molecules with the action of living organisms in the natural environment, such as in soil.

Moreover than creating or developing biodegradable or compostable plastics, there is an urgent need to take dramatic actions; fighting with plastic is much more crucial than battling with pandemic and its needs proper mechanism by governments, NGO’S, volunteer program, researchers, and the public to work together to form synergetic approaches.

It’s possible to cut plastic use; our next generations do not deserve the plastic world. We can achieve healthier and sustainability, but it’s only possible to take proactive steps and behave in a responsible wait for the sake of the environment and ourselves.

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