During the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic cups and surgical masks have played a vital role in helping contain the virus. It is society’s way of coping up with the “new normal”.
Because of this, the increasing number of surgical mask use and disposal continues to grow and remains one of the largest environmental issues the world is facing. According to the latest reports from Thailand’s Environment Institute, plastic use and disposal increased since the Coronavirus pandemic happened – most of which came from food deliveries and takeaways. If the government wanted to ensure that proper waste management remains intact, they should support it and do something about the current plastic waste situation.
Frontliners and healthcare workers are known to be the ones that have greatly benefited from the use of single-use industrial plastics during this global pandemic. Social distancing measures also played a crucial role in increasing the use of single-use plastics by promoting everyone to purchase food for takeaway instead of dining in. While there’s no denying that these measures have been effective in helping reduce direct contact with other people, minimizing the risk of infection and virus transmission, the use of disposables has generally increased.
Recently, images of medical waste piled up multiple plastic sacks can be found outside hospitals, with sights of PPEs along the coastal waters. These and more are just some examples of how single-use plastic materials affect the world’s beautiful beaches – happening during the pandemic. Short-term solutions like these can result in bigger environmental problems and may lead to a public-health calamity if not taken care of immediately.
Most parts of the world have voiced their concern about the continued increase in plastic waste and how it has affected the world’s beautiful beaches and waterways. International organizations, the government, and even private companies encourage everyone to do something about it. In some parts of the world, local governments came up with tax rules and additional bans on single-use plastics. Bigger companies in various industries committed to coming up with earth-friendly packaging solutions before the COVID-19 pandemic started.
However, it seems like all of these efforts are about to go to the drain as the pandemic quickly reversed all the progress the rest of the world did to minimize plastic use.
Accurate data on how much increased plastic disposal during the pandemic may require more time, as the preliminary reports are still unclear up to date. Based on the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in China, hospitals are known to discard 240 tons of medical and plastic waste since the pandemic started – and this is in Wuhan alone. This is based on the original output of 40 tons before this global pandemic started. Because of this data from China, Frost & Sullivan, a well-known consulting firm has noted that the USA’s 12-month medical waste disposal amount can be accumulated within a short span of two months during the outbreak.
Similarly, this uprise in medical waste and plastic disposal can also be observed among ordinary residents. In China alone, the production of face masks has been seen to have increased twelve times more compared to recent months. Public garbage bins contain a large amount of discarded surgical face masks, and at this point, it’s hard to tell how much more of these masks are discarded and found in household waste bins. Thailand Environment Institute reported that plastic waste disposal has increased to 6,300 tons daily – from what used to be just 1,500 per day. The majority of these plastic wastes came from food deliveries and takeaways.
The majority of waste-management companies and services still cannot operate at full force because of the social distancing measures and lockdown situation in most countries.
It’s not just the government’s job to bring a stop to this. Up to date, those developing countries are caught in the middle of the crisis because of outdated waste-management systems. Considering how COVID-19 has significantly caused a huge impact on everybody’s daily routines, now seems like a good time for these countries to do something about their waste-management infrastructure.
Now that some countries are slowly opening the economy, major companies, development banks, aid agencies, and non-government officials can come up with multiple waste-management systems that can directly tackle the increasing plastic use during the COVID outbreak. These solutions should also aim to keep disposals away from our oceans while giving citizens more livelihood options for a sustainable economy during these tough times.
The Coronavirus pandemic still came as a shock for most people. While some people strongly think that this is something that their local government has chosen to ignore, there’s no denying that these are the types of issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Plastic wastes aren’t exempt from this, and proper solutions must be put in place today.