Single use PPE, plastic cups, and practically everything wrapped in cellophane. Efforts to reduce our contact with infection have been incredibly important over the past year. During the pandemic, everyone was doing their utmost to make sure that we came into as little contact with the virus as possible. Part of this meant making sure that anything that could possibly contain the virus was disposed of.
But with these safety measures, the use of single-use plastics dramatically increased, which has only added to the pre-pandemic problem of our plastic waste becoming unmanageable.
But hang on, why was this an issue in the first place?
Globally, more than 220 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year. The problem is that we are creating plastic waste much more quickly than we are able to safely dispose of it.
About 80per cent of marine litter is plastic and it is estimated that by2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight. This can drastically affect marine life. A study conducted by Dutch researchers on marine life in the North Sea reported that the local seagull population has ingested so much plastic, that an average of 30 plastic pieces could be found in one seagull’s stomach. Plastic has also been found in nearly every level of the oceanic food chain, showing how big the problem really is and the extent that marine life is being affected.
But plastic doesn’t just affect the oceans, a large proportion also end ups in landfill. Plastic is not biodegradable and it can take up to hundreds of years to breakdown. As we are creating plastic waste at a much higher rate than we are ridding ourselves of it, it is not difficult to see how if we don’t take action now, we could be overrun with plastic waste affecting the health of our animals.
So why not just burn it? Well, burning plastic can create toxic fumes resulting in air pollution. For those breathing in the smoke, it can cause respiratory, and other health problems. Again, the rate that we’d need to burn plastic in order to rid ourselves of the waste, other significant health problems would be caused and so burning plastic is not a viable option.
The excessive use and consumption of single-use plastics (including personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves) due to COVID-19 pandemic, has and will exacerbate these situations.
But what can we do, as individuals and within our organisations, to help this crisis and make sure our own environmental wellbeing is taken care of?
It’s simple tips and tricks that you have probably heard time and time again. Firstly, if you have to dispose of plastic, do so responsibly. Make sure it is clean (as if it is not, it might not get recycled!) and place it in a correct bin or waste collection system rather than littering or putting it in general waste. If you don’t have access to plastic recycling, hold onto your waste until you do!
If possible, reuse your plastics. If you’re out and thirsty buying a plastic water bottle might be unavoidable, but you can certainly make use of this a few more times. But generally, try not to use single use plastics. Take your lunch into work in Tupperware, invest in a decent travel mug and drink from a glass rather than a plastic cup when you visit the water cooler. If all of us take a little bit more responsibility with situations like this, it will make a huge difference to the problem of plastic in the world.
But you can go even further! If you feel strongly about single use plastics you can aim to embrace and popularise the circular economy for plastics; reduce, reuse and recycle in your circles and communities. You can lobby local governments and businesses to consider bans on single-use plastics, or join communities that do.
The bottom line is that any effort to help the plastic pandemic is worth your time. It will contribute positively to the world around you and importantly, your environmental wellbeing. So ask yourself, what are you going to do to help fight it?