COVID-19 Pandemic Blows a Major Setback for Efforts to Curb Plastic Waste

A facemask on the ground

As the world is grappling to adjust to coronavirus, the need for disposable protective equipment and food containers has grown exponentially. It’s a necessary precaution, but without a circular system for our waste (and plastic waste especially) mismanaged waste has its own set of human and environmental health impacts.

And as CNN explained, “all that plastic ends up somewhere — and environmental campaigners fear it is just the tip of a looming iceberg, with the pandemic causing a number of serious challenges to their efforts to reduce plastic pollution.

Why This Matters: For ecosystems and oceans especially, excess plastic waste from COVID-19 brings an additional threat, especially when they’re already choking on plastic. As DW explained, Southeast Asia is one of the biggest sources of plastic waste from land to the ocean, and Thailand is among the top five contributors. In January, Thailand placed a ban on single-use plastic, and was looking to reduce its plastic waste by 30% this year but the COVID-19 pandemic has seen waste increase by 62% in April alone. That’s a major setback on efforts to act on the plastic crisis. 

Multiplying Effect: The situation in Thailand is indicative of how plastic waste can quickly accumulate in nations that lack adequate recycling and waste disposal infrastructure. And even in places where littering is rare, like Hong Kong, there are dozens of other ways masks and litter can reach the sea. Masks, gloves and other PPE items can easily fall out of pockets or blow away and end up in the ocean.

And when these items blow into the ocean, a recent study showed that when plastic is left in the water long enough and algae and bacteria grow on it, it actually smells like food to turtles.

Sustainable Choices During a Pandemic: There are innovations underway that can make PPE equipment more sustainable. DW also reported that in the US, the car manufacturer Ford is producing reusable gowns from air bag materials that can be washed up to 50 times, while the University of Nebraska is also testing to see whether ultraviolet light will decontaminate and prolong the life of medical masks, and therefore, reduce waste.

But all this shows that we have to prepare for pandemics much better than we did for this one, including how we protect the environment during outbreaks. 

Up Next

One Cool Thing: Gold Medal in Recycling

One Cool Thing: Gold Medal in Recycling

While an Olympic medal is special in its own right, the ones being handed out at the Tokyo 2020 games come with a little extra magic. After Tokyo won its bid to host the games, the Tokyo Medal Project, called on the Japanese people to donate their old recycled old electronic gadgets such as smartphones […]

Continue Reading 132 words
New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new series of bills have been introduced in Congress that aim to quell food waste. These bills — the Zero Food Waste Act, and the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion of Sustainable Techniques Act (COMPOST) —will reduce food waste and in turn help create jobs, slow climate […]

Continue Reading 552 words
One Cool Thing: Goats in the City

One Cool Thing: Goats in the City


Two dozen goats were unleashed in Manhattan’s Riverside park last week to get to work chomping down on invasive weeds. Crowds of spectators went to the park Wednesday to witness the ceremonial “running of the goats,” as the animals were released into the area, where they enjoyed a multi-course meal of Japanese knotweed, porcelain berry, multiflora rose, and even […]

Continue Reading 199 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.