COVID-19 and Plastic
Author: Mokshit Batra
Single-use plastic has created images of terror forever engrained in our minds. From plastic being found in the stomach of animals to scenery filled with mountains of plastic.
Single-use plastic is destroying the planet like no one else.
Unfortunately for us residents of Earth, COVID-19 has worsened the situation.
Danger of Single-Use Plastic
Single-Use Plastic is an atom bomb for the environment.
Out of all the single-use plastic produced in the world, only 9 percent of it is ever recycled.
Where does the rest go?
The rest of the plastic ends up where it shouldn’t. It ends up in lakes, rivers, seas, oceans and other water bodies. It ends up in landfills not equipped to treat single-use plastic. It ends up in our forests and it even ends up on roads near our homes.
Threat to Wildlife
This plastic is a direct threat to wildlife. Countless animals every single year are killed by plastic.
Marine animals end up getting plastic bags stuck in their stomach. These animals either day of starvation or entanglement.
Either they feel no urge to eat due to plastic filled in their stomachs or the plastic bags end up messing with their digestive systems.
Threat to Environment
Not only do these plastics threaten wildlife, they also wreck the environment. While degrading in the environment, these plastic bags release a huge amount of greenhouse gases.
When exposed to direct sunlight, these plastics may also release a variety of chemicals and gases.
These gases are detrimental to the environment and human health.
Threat to Humankind
As you read above, these plastics harm the environment and directly interfere with the air we breathe. These chemicals may also end up in the water and even our food.
When single-use plastic breaks down, it forms smaller plastic particles called microplastics.
These microplastics left open in the environment used to be eaten by plankton and other similar species.
However, recently, microplastics have also been found in human blood. This is not a good sign for human health.
The threats mentioned above don’t even make up the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the danger of single-use plastic. I highly recommend you do your research on the topic.
Impact of COVID-19
The use of single-use plastic has increased exponentially since the pandemic.
There is a lot of plastic that has gone into making products like masks, sanitisers, gloves and other equipment used to fight COVID-19.
Other than that, many restaurants, food outlets and other shops have shifted to plastic cutlery and other disposable items to fight the virus.
A few years ago when they would have used glass or ceramic materials, they now use disposable one-time-use plastic plates.
However, these are simply drops in the ocean.
The real calamity of plastic comes from medical waste.
From billions of COVID tests to hundreds of millions of patients who were treated for the virus.
The amount of medical waste this has created trumps that of personal equipment.
We were not prepared for the coronavirus. No one was. And we were definitely not prepared for the humongous amount of plastic that was coming our way.
It is estimated that about 10 million tons of pandemic-associated waste was generated from 193 countries till August 2021.
About 30 thousand tons of this waste was dumped in global oceans.
It is estimated that a majority of this waste (73%) is medical.
Another interesting fact to note is that 72% of the dumped waste comes from Asia. This clearly shows a lack of proper waste disposal systems in developing Asian countries.
Plastic is durable, cheap and has a great strength to weight ratio. This makes it ideal for all kinds of medical equipment. Maybe that is the reason why we are facing such a big global crisis today.
This part of the article might be a surprise to you. What is the role of ecommerce in an article about single-use plastic?
A big one.
The E-commerce industry experienced an increase of 16% in revenue in the first 6 months of the pandemic.
Needless to say, people preferred not to step outside of their homes and instead have things home-delivered.
Items ordered online go through a more rigorous packaging and marking process.
When you buy an item from a store, you can simply put it in a bag and carry it home. Most shops have now switched to paper bags.
Note : If the place you shop from uses plastic or polythene bags, you are advised to carry your own bags to reduce wastage.
Shipping items online involves more plastic for packaging as the items have to be sent safely.
This may not seem like much of a big deal to you, but it has definitely mounted up. The increase in ecommerce has been substantial, and the plastic used, even more.
In case we are hit with another devastating wave of COVID-19, or other similar disastrous events, we need more knowledge and monitoring of single-use plastic.
A majority of the plastic used is unaccounted for and dumped off illegally.
More importantly, it is important either to find an alternative for medical equipment, or prepare ourselves to dispose off of such waste in humongous quantities.
Lockdowns caused by the pandemic was great for the environment initially. Cities with highly polluted air started improving on the air quality index.
Shutdown of industries created less polluted air.
There was less littering and water bodies were cleaner.
We gradually found out this was not going to last. In fact, the situation was soon going to get worse than before.
We were not ready for the humongous amounts of plastic waste coming our way.
However, we must learn from this situation and make sure that a similar situation is never presented again.