A Spike of Plastic Demand in Corona Virus Pandemic
A spike in demand for protective equipment, takeaway packaging and single-use bottles during the coronavirus pandemic is leading to a surge in plastic waste.
This contribution to our collective rubbish is offsetting the expected decrease in plastic waste generation as a result of the current decline in economic activity.
At the same time, efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 have seen recycling efforts such as those run by municipalities, airlines and other businesses put on hold.
The net effect of these factors has been that more waste and recyclables have been disposed of through both landfill and incineration.
Coronavirus may also be leading to medical facilities producing more waste that must be treated as hazardous and disposed of accordingly.
However, around 85 per cent of medical waste is incinerated.
In a blog post, energy expert Rachel Meidl of the Baker Institute for Public Policy in Texas noted that the effects of the pandemic have coupled with those of the oil price collapse and a global economic slowdown.'
This, she added, 'challenges the world’s stated desire for investments to keep pace with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the aspiration of a circular economy.'
In the US, at least 50 curbside recycling programs have either been cut or suspended as a result of pandemic-related safety, processing and end market issues.
'In an industry already overwhelmed with challenges, materials that would normally find its way to recyclers are being channelled directly as solid waste to landfills and incinerators out of an abundance of caution,' Dr Meidl added.
'An additional consequence of the pandemic has been the repeal of statewide, municipal or corporate single-use plastic bans stimulated by the concerns for safety and cross-contamination of the virus.'
Such shifts include the banning and encouragement away from reusable bags in the states of Massachusetts and Illinois.
Meanwhile, Oregon this week suspended its recently-launched ban on plastic bags, joining other US cities including Bellingham, Washington and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Examples such as these, Dr Meidl added, 'underscores the ignorance society has on the unintended consequences of bans implemented without systematic and strategic assessments of plastic waste and their potential replacements.'
Instead of implementing product-focused plastic bans, the research is instead pushing for a more systemic approach to combat the 'extensive and interconnected' problem of global waste.
'COVID-19 has not eliminated the need to propel the recycling industry to become more economical and sustainable,' she concludes.
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