One of the consequences of COVID on the environment: plastic

Since COVID came on the scene, it has become a priority to tackle it as soon as possible. Avoiding more infections and deaths is the fundamental objective. Once this has been resolved, the economic crisis that has followed its appearance will be the next point to be resolved.

Despite this, from an environmental point of view, the implementation of measures to prevent its expansion has had disparate effects. Air quality in cities has improved, the hole in the ozone layer has decreased and noise pollution has decreased. One could say that this is positive.

However, waste from plastic has increased. The COVID has changed part of our life habits. Both at home and in general. We use more disposable products, but the waste collection and treatment systems have not increased in the same way.

Increasing the use of plastic in the home

All governments have implemented to a greater or lesser extent provisions to prevent the spread of the virus. The use of masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes or hydroalcoholic gels are some of the recommendations that have been imposed. Once used, they are deposited in the general container, in the best of cases. In the worst case, they appear abandoned on streets, rivers, beaches, etc.

But not only that, the consumption of other disposable products has also increased. More take-out containers, plastic bottles, bags, etc. are being used. And this translates into an increase in the volume of waste collection. According to data from the Frankfurter Müllentsorgung FES, the amount of household waste in the months of March and April was 11% more than in the previous months.

More and more hospital waste

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is all clothing designed to protect a worker. This PPE is mainly made of oil-based materials, i.e. plastics.

With the health crisis, the use of hospital-based PPE has skyrocketed. And therefore also the waste that they generate. Normally these equipments are of only one use and need a specific treatment after their use.

The fundamental problem is aftercare and the response is mixed. Depending on the economic resources of each region, it is addressed in one way or another. One of the most common is incineration.

It must be taken into account that if these wastes are not treated and worked under optimal conditions, their burning emits into the atmosphere compounds as dangerous as dioxins.

Waste everywhere

Like the recommendations at the domestic level, general measures in the public environment have been required. The use of screens in public transport booths, supermarkets, beaches, is widespread.

These partitions are made of petroleum-based materials, such as methacrylate. The characteristics of these materials are very suitable for the present times. However, when the health crisis has passed, we will find a huge amount of this waste to be managed.

What could be done?

Of course, we must not forget that we are in a period of pandemic, that it can be extended or other outbreaks can come. Therefore, in addition to immediate measures, it would be advisable to adapt, optimize and prepare for continuous improvement.

One of the priorities could be the design analysis of sustainable waste management chains. Including recycling, logistics, technology and management policies.

Protecting waste management chains will help achieve sustainable cities and communities, as outlined in the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

References & Resources


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