Surgical masks, plastic cups and increasing amounts of single use plastics for a variety of food delivery purposes are becoming a global problem in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
According to the Environmental Institute in Thailand, the amount of plastic garbage being produced on a national scale has exploded due to the increase in home delivery due to the need for social distancing. It is more important than ever before that governments take measures to ensure that waste management is capable of handling the amount of waste being produced.
Pros and Cons of Plastic
Governments are facing the very real need to ensure that current and future plastic waste management is properly addressed. Of course, there is no denying that plastics have been a vital part in what keeps us safe, especially those working on the frontlines of health. Single use plastics have also allowed for the delivery of much needed food, during times when social distancing is an important part of staying healthy. Industrial plastics are always necessary.
But despite the great help that plastics have been, there is an unpleasant side to this increased use. Images of vast quantities of plastic waste generated by hospitals have shaken the globe along with video clips of rivers of plastic garbage making its way to the rivers and oceans. If we are not careful, the wake of the coronavirus can be even more devastating than the pandemic itself.
The Situation Before and After the Pandemic
It is important to consider that plastic garbage was already a serious issue before the COVID-19 virus shook the world. Policy makers and many international organizations have been urged by the United Nations to take action against this growing problem. Many governments on a national and local scale have responded by applying high taxes and bans on the use of single-use plastics. Many companies have also introduced the use of more environmentally friendly packaging options. But the advent of the coronavirus has sent all these efforts into a tailspin.
It will take a long time to calculate the actual amount of plastic waste generated because of the pandemic, Nevertheless, the initial reports are staggering. According to the Ministry of Ecology in the PRC, hospitals in Wuhan alone produce more than 240 tonnes of waste on a daily basis. That is compared to the 40 tonnes they produced before the outbreak. According to Frost & Sullivan, the US health and medical system is expected to generate over a year’s worth of plastic garbage in a mere 2 months.
A similar rise in waste materials can be seen in plastic use by the population as a whole. In the PRC, more than 116 million face masks are being produced; this is 12 times as high as the production from the month before the pandemic. Furthermore, hundreds of tonnes of masks are being collected from public waste alone.
To make matters worse, many waste management companies have seen limited operations. This diminished capacity is brought about by stay-at-home regulations and social distancing.
Of course, the task of solving this problem is not for governments alone. For many developing countries, waste management was already a problem. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that the time for cooperative action is right now.
What Can We Do?
Waste management systems will have to be upgraded and improved as the global economy begins to recover. In addition to keeping waste out of the oceans, the increase in waste management companies will produce more jobs and better livelihoods for many. This will result in a stronger global economy with more sustainable futures.
COVID-19 has been described as the greatest shock to hit the planet. As a matter of fact, there is reason to believe that many policy makers were fully aware of the problem beforehand and chose to do nothing about it. The last thing we need is for more problems to be ignored because they are inconvenient. When it comes to the issue of plastic waste, the danger zone was entered long ago and the world has yet to take any positive action in this regard.