COVID- linked plastic pollution | The future seems plastic
It is scientifically believed that this Novel Coronavirus, COVID- 19 will more likely contribute a lot to increasing plastic pollution all over the globe. Although the water and air around the planet has gotten pure and cleaner due to government-imposed lockdowns. Nature is bouncing back to normal during this pandemic. Similarly, with a growing number of COVID patients the need for personal protective equipment PPE has increased. The careless disposal of this plastic protective equipment is clogging sidewalk drains and washing through the waterways. Likewise, many individuals of plastic industries are claiming ‘an abundance of caution’ as a reason to restart widespread use of disposable plastic. These industrialists have taken advantage of the uncertainty and fear around the pandemic. They have evolved around the idea of making cheaper protective equipment, that is to be used for eight hours only.
Nowadays plastic products are experiencing a sudden revival because this material turns out to be protective against the transmission of virus and is sanitary as well. Due to these reasons, many places have suspended already implemented bans from plastic. And the use of plastic in the department of healthcare has reached its new height. Although this new lifestyle has highlighted the public value of plastic, it has also accentuated our vulnerabilities to pollution.
Currently, the battle to fight COVID-19 demands PPE, which is made up of various rubber and plastic items. Masks and Gloves are necessary for health care workers and paramedical staff: these latex gloves are decomposable and biodegradable. The material of these gloves is extracted from rubber trees, whereas vinyl and nitrile gloves that are made from synthetic polymers are not biodegradable. Other than gloves there are many other health-related items that are made of synthetic polymers that are not environment friendly.
Furthermore, there are so many clean and fresh plastic items widely used in medical applications for creating a sterile environment, such as disposable syringes, blood bags, pill casings, catheters, masks, oxygen masks, cylinders, fumigation kits and many more. All these equipment are made of synthetic polymers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and PP, which are not biodegradable, generating tons of medical waste. This COVID has increased the use of disposable utensils as well. People are observing social distancing rules and therefore also ordering more food deliveries and takeaways: resulting in the increased number of disposable meal boxes. These meal boxes are generally made of PP or Polystyrene.
The fear of spreading Coronavirus has increased the use of plastic to 50 % from last year. Nowadays disposable polyethylene (PE) gloves are mostly used by everyone going outside for grocery or any other purpose. PE is used for plastic shopping bags worldwide, which has caused tremendous environmental hazards in earlier years. Considering cross-contamination, many grocery stores have forbidden shoppers from bringing their own reusable bags and handing them plastic bags for single use instead. Worldwide and statewide and even in local areas the demand for PPE, plastic bags bottled water, and packaging has increased.
According to recent research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, this coronavirus might stay longer on plastics than on other materials the scientists have analyzed data that show SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on stainless steel and plastic than on cardboard and copper. The virus was detected up to 72 hours after application on these surfaces. This study suggests that paper bags might be less risky than plastic bags.
All the PPE personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and other medical equipment are no doubt essential for front line workers, but this is producing a lot of plastic waste that we will not be able to manage in the coming years. Additionally, in order to stop this COVID-19, governments all over the world have observed lockdowns, which has resulted in less recycling. Recycling and municipal waste services have been significantly limited since CORONA emerged. All the extra plastic we are now using because of CORONA might not get recycled at all, resulting in COVID linked plastic pollution.
At the moment plastic undoubtedly is very essential and indispensable to us, it is necessary for protecting our life right now, but it will be a cause of threat for life in the long run. All of us are facing a lot of challenges in maintaining health and reducing plastic waste side by side. This novel virus is not permanent, but its aftereffects will be long-lasting. The pandemic is temporary but the plastic pollution it is creating will be lifelong, and if all of us will not take urgent and proper actions we will have to face its negative outcomes in the long run. This increase in plastic pollution will affect marine life drastically, it will have a negative impact on the natural environment, our health will suffer, and wildlife will be affected as well.
Recently the sudden drop in crude oil prices means that raw and virgin plastic will be cheaper. This dropdown price will increase the carefree use of plastic and might further harm the concept of recycling. With the high amount of plastic consumed per day and a reduced or rare amount of plastic being recycled we are likely to face more plastic pollution and more plastic waste.
The situation is really alarming if one estimates about all these single-use plastic products, for instance, one doctor uses 2 masks, 8 to 10 sets of gloves 1 to 2 PPE suits, he will be wasting 60 masks, 300 gloves and 60 suits in one month, now if we multiply his waste from the day corona emerged to this day we will have thousands of used masks for one person. Multiplying this number with all the healthcare workers, nurses, and paramedics serving all over the world we will have lakhs of plastic waste. This massive amount of plastic waste that neither can be used again nor can be recycled, and it is left unattended on the face of the earth, is indeed a great loss for the environment.
This pandemic has increased plastic use in healthcare departments, with every passing second, we are producing a large amount of plastic waste that cannot be recycled due to potential biohazards. Keeping track of the numbers of medical plastic could grow at an unprecedented scale. Scientists are fearing that a similar situation will be arising in the food industry. The disrupted waste management and recycling sector are also affected by this pandemic, they will also take some time to recover, reduce, and recycle. It is understood that waste management will not be able to handle and manage this massive volume of post-pandemic plastic.
Ocean Conservancy scientists fear that there will be an increase in ocean plastic pollution in the near future if the temporary rollbacks to plastic ban become permanent. According to scientist’s plastic bags are devastating for the ocean. These plastic bags are among the deadliest forms of marine debris and can stay there for more than a decade. These bags are collected the most by volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.
Even after the countries start lifting quarantine measures, we will have a high reliance on plastic materials. When all this corona will be over our environment will be in greater danger than before the pandemic.