- One hundred and ninety-three countries have created eight million tons of waste during the pandemic.
- According to a new study, 25,900 tons of “pandemic-associated plastic waste” seeped into the oceans.
- The long-term effects of this are currently unknown.
A report published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that 193 countries have created eight million tons of waste during the coronavirus pandemic — 25,900 tons of which was “pandemic-associated plastic waste” that seeped into the world’s oceans and ends up on beaches and seabeds.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastics that intensifies pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic waste problem,” authors Yiming Peng, Peipei Wu, Amina T. Schartup, and Yanxu Zhang said in a research article titled “Magnitude and impact of pandemic-associated plastic waste,” published by PNAS. The researchers are from the School of Atmospheric Sciences at Nanjing University in Nanjing, China, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, California,
The researchers estimate that about 87% of the waste came from hospitals — not individuals — and that countries are not able to handle and efficiently process the tremendous amount of plastic waste, and “most of the global discharge is from Asia (72%).” Specifically, the plastic is coming from rivers; 10 rivers account for 79% of pandemic-related plastic discharge, according to the researchers. The top three are Shatt al Arab, Indus, Yangtze River.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastics that intensifies pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic waste problem,” the researchers explain in the abstract.
The article also said that plastic is convenient for the production of personal protective equipment and packaging because it is “durable and inexpensive.” But this plastic endangers marine life and threatens long-term issues for the coastal environment and the ecosystem, according to the report.
“While it is suspected to be large, the magnitude and fate of this pandemic-associated mismanaged plastic waste are unknown,” the report said.
Another report approximates that 1.56 million face masks have found their way to the ocean during 2020.