Millions of gloves, masks, sanitizer bottles are piling up in oceans
Conservationists are worried and warning that Covid-19 is sparking a surge in pollution; single-use personal protective equipment (PPEs) are littering seabeds and washing up on shorelines.
According to BBC, in the UK alone, more than a billion PPEs, including masks and gloves, were given to NHS staff between February to mid-April; up till now, this number would have doubled.
Because no matter how qualitative hospital-grade PPE is, it can only be used once, to avoid the risk of spreading the virus, healthcare workers are getting through more significant amounts. And being non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, most PPE are being discarded and dumped into open seas and oceans.
According to the World Economic Forum, “Waterlogged masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and other coronavirus waste are already being found on our seabed and washed up on our beaches, joining the day-to-day detritus in our ocean ecosystems.”
As per the University College London’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, if every UK citizen alone uses one single-use face mask every day for a year, the total contaminated plastic waste would be around 66,000 tons.
That’s why researchers urge the public to wear reusable PPEs, rather than single-use, where possible.
COVID-19 has several unexpected impacts on our environment, curtailing, recycling, and increasing the use of plastic around the world; it’s the right time for governments to ensure a green recovery to incentivize sustainability.
Think again, are these one-time-use PPEs protectors or polluters?
This is the right time to rethink our plastic problem, especially when millions of gloves and masks are thrown away every day – only in UK healthcare settings, think of the rest of the world.
Coronavirus waste on our seabeds and beaches, joining the day-to-day detritus in our ocean ecosystems.
In February, OceansAsia also flagged the growing number of masks discovered during its plastic pollution research; a significant amount of covers were found on the Soko Islands of Hong Kong.
Keeping aside the Coronavirus pollution, some 8 million tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, UK only, adding to some 150 million tons circulating in marine environments.
Zac Goldsmith, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, said, “Maritime nations know far better than anyone how our ocean economies are dependent on ocean health.”
“But we all ultimately depend on our shared oceans and changing the role that plastic plays in every part of our economy.
“Efforts to tackle plastic pollution can help us improve ocean health, tackle climate change, support biodiversity, and build sustainable livelihoods.”
Due to COVID-19, the world is no more in a single-use plastic waste; despite a temporary crash in carbon emissions due to lockdowns, as a fewer people traveling and less industrial activity, experts and green researchers are concerned with the fact that the pandemic will divert governments’ attention from green issues.
Pollution other than COVID-19
The UN’s COP26 climate change conference, which is decided to be held in November 2020, has also been postponed.
In some US cities, recycling programs have also been temporarily stopped, the same is the case in parts of virus-hit Italy and Spain, where recycling is on hold.
The quarantine economy causes another problem is the increasing packaging waste from deliveries; medical waste has also rocketed.
Even food wastage has also accelerated due to import and export restrictions. As a decline in the availability of cargo transportation, large amounts of food have also gone to waste; resultantly, this organic waste decays will release greenhouse gases.
And unless economic stimuli divert towards green initiatives, a sudden upsurge in polluting activity is expected as construction and manufacturing will make extensive efforts to drive recovery from the global downturn that the virus has created.
Goldsmith says, “Let this moment be a wake-up call for all of us, as countries emerge from the pandemic, we will all have to find ways to rebuild and renew.
“And I think that gives us a huge one-off opportunity to choose a different path – one that ensures environmental sustainability and resilience are the lenses through which we make decisions and map out our recovery.”