One of the few silver linings of Covid-19 is evident: the drastic decrease in emissions. What many of us don’t realize, however, is the staggering amount of plastic waste we’ve created. This increase is due to many governments encouraging manufacturers to ramp up plastic production for demands in personal protective equipment.
To share some perspective, there’s a new Research and Market study on the Global Surgical Mask market. Back in 2018, this market only accounted for $61.5 million but is expected to reach $118.97 million in the U.S. by 2027.
Unfortunately, this demand contributes directly to the overproduction of polymers polypropylene—the plastic waste often produced for single-use water bottles, takeout containers, and most importantly, N95 masks.
While Covid-19 has decreased global GHG emissions, our evident overuse of plastic waste has become a growing concern.
The impact of plastic waste
Since Covid-19 hit, there’s been a clear shift in our day-to-day lives. Once dine-in restaurants now only serve take out, consumers buy more single-use plastic items, and medical professionals exceedingly require plastic-infused PPE.
Not to mention, there’s a huge issue in terms of medical waste. According to a study conducted by the WHO, 85% of all medical waste is incinerated, while only 15% is biohazardous.
However, HPRC states 25% of medical waste from the U.S. facilities are noninfectious, which can allow for recycling. The insufficient reuse and recycle of supplies will play a detrimental role in our environments, especially when we face future pandemics.
Reduction in plastic bans
With more safety regulations put in place due to Covid-19, there have been repeals of previously instated plastic bans. Although the CDC announced coronavirus won’t spread from surface-to-person, the agency still advised U.S. citizens to use disposable items. As recycled plastic has become less popular, oil prices plundered in order to produce “virgin” plastic — the cheaper alternative.
“Every day it’s harder to make new sales when the virgin [plastic price] keeps going down,” said Eadaoin Quinn, Director of Business Development and Procurement at EFS Plastics.
California and New York have already suspended their reusable bag bans, emphasizing the sanitary benefits of using single-use products. Yet, before the Covid-19 pandemic, studies showed that over 1 trillion plastic bags used each year. At this rate, there’s no telling how much damage we’re causing our environment.
As society continues to adapt to new obstacles, we must learn from our previous mistakes—namely with plastic waste. With the growing plastic industry, we must be able to provide environmentally friendly options.
And there’s no question that our world and industry leaders have the ability to incentivize eco-friendly alternatives to plastic waste. As sustainable alternatives become more and more trendy, it’s an easy sell.
Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.