The use of plastic shoots up during the pandemic


No other event has caused such transversal impacts around the world as the pandemic because of COVID-19. Besides all the human, economic and work losses, there have also been large side effects for the environment. In fact, single-use plastics, which have a short utility and great chances of becoming lasting residues, have been much more used since March 2020 in comparison with previous years.

Masks and gloves, the most used plastics

Obviously, people’s health comes first. The worldwide need for millions of masks, united to the rise of takeaway food packages, safety gloves or hand sanitizers, has shot up the use of plastic. Even though those are, especially masks, essential goods, without the proper recycling measures, around 70% of those plastics will end in the ocean and another 12%, burnt. One of the biggest drawbacks of plastic is its toxicity. Moreover, hundreds of years can pass before it fully decomposes. Thus, plastic that is not stored (which already generates a negative impact) or recycled, is burnt. The cremation processes generate toxic waste and large emissions of CO2.

The increase in the consumption (and elimination) of plastic during the last year has made many recycling processes to collapse around the world. Those which were already defective, especially in developing nations, have been interrupted once or more. But also, more complex waste management structures have suffered the consequences of the pandemic. For instance, in April, 2020, 46% of recycling facilities in the UK had reduced or suspended their recycling services.

The consequences, more harmful for the most vulnerable ones

The accumulation of plastic is more detrimental for those people and groups with vulnerable conditions. The health and well-being of those who live near the places where plastic is produced, treated or stored have bigger chances of suffering the consequences of the produced pollution.

The fall in petroleum prices, especially in countries with less resources, hasn’t helped either. The demand for gas has been obviously lower, due to quarantines and restrictions to mobility around the world. As a consequence, virgin petroleum resins with which plastic is produced have turned even cheaper than recycled materials. With the economies of almost every country in the world doing worse than usual and the necessity of a massive production of products such as masks, the rise in the use of plastic is easily explained.

It’s crucial that governments around the world become more conscious of the importance of reducing the consumption of plastic. Especially single-use one. To achieve SDGs 11, 12 and 13 it’s necessary to opt for recycled and easily recyclable materials. It’s got to be a compromise from everyone. A cleaner and healthier world will also be a gift for everyone.

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