Two years ago, the whole world came to a halt under the grips of Novel CoronaVirus. We all know that the pandemic of Covid19 has changed the cause of the daily lives of people across the world. Now let us take a look at what impact has it made on the environment we live in. The modern world and its environmental protection measures and activism have heavily failed in the dilemma posed by the pandemic.
The Covid19 pandemic was an unexpected disaster that mankind faced in the twenty-first century. The prevention and protection measures introduced for regulating the spread of the disease is by using several biomedical plastic products. These include the full-body Personal Protection kits (PPE) widely used by frontline fighters, latex gloves and face shields that were used by a large proportion of the population, syringes, and sanitizers that comes in plastic containers. All these products are of single usability and contribute to the bigger mount of plastic problems on earth. The high necessity of these Pandemic protection devices leads to an unprecedented surge in Plastic waste. The amount of plastic produced across the world since the onset of the pandemic is estimated to be 1.6 million tonnes/day.
We know that out of the many serious measures taken by the countries across the world to tackle the problem of plastic waste on the environment was to ban the use of single-use plastic products. A large proportion of plastic produced in the world is synthetic polymers like polyethylene, polypropylene, etc. These compounds are non-biodegradable and stay left on the surface of the earth forever. Moreover, they get broken down into smaller compounds such as nano-plastics, microplastics, meso plastics, and macro-plastics. The nano and micro compounds even enter into the human food chain causing direct and serious health problems.
The pandemic caused plastic production saw a high increase in production of these types of single-use plastics. As the disease is highly contagious, once used articles like PPE kits, masks and gloves cannot be used again and has to be discarded without an option for reusing or recycling normally. The situations like lock-down and quarantine also lead the way for another section of SUPs in the form of food wraps, and packaging of products. These add more to the already existing problem.
Due to the lock-downs and Covid19 control protocols in different countries, even the plastic recycling units were shut down in the year 2020. And also the people were highly encouraged to use SUPs while going out to cut the spread of the disease through such normal utensils. Normal methods of plastic disposal are incineration, landfills and , mechanical recycling. On the issue of pandemic waste, the WHO had recommended either high-temperature incineration or deep burial of infectious waste, including plastic articles. The impact of burning a huge amount of accumulated plastic products would be a sudden increase in carbon compounds in the air and production of the greenhouse effect.
But either way, many people just chose to throw away the biomedical plastic products unattended into the environment. A large proportion of these waste materials are getting accumulated in the ocean ecosystem. There are many recent reports of sedimentation of these plastic wastes in the shorelines from the ocean waters. In the ocean, they either float or sink to settle in the sea beds. This proliferation of plastics in the ocean waters is a high threat to the marine ecosystem. Especially biomedical plastic waste indulges in more damage. We see that the result of the sudden pandemic plastic influx is in fact reversing all the measures taken by the world countries in countering the plastic problem on earth.
Another issue that one cannot look through is the unfair trade of plastic waste between the ‘developed’ and the third world countries. For the more greener and fairer world in the developed nations, they trade the waste materials with the underdeveloped countries. Poor countries like many in African continent are actively being dumping spots for the waste from the rest of the world. These countries, which has no proper waste management systems, obviously, depend on poor women and children being waste pickers for meager amount to deal with the problem.
We know that the Pandemic generated waste is predominantly biomedical SUPs. Such waste materials being dumped in poor countries and handpicking waste management system cause the biggest threat to humanity than ever. We have also seen in several instances previously that many poor African countries being prone to deadly infectious and contagious diseases. This is a more overlooked problem concerning the humanity over all the greener and environmental mainstream campaigns and activisms that capture all the attention in the world right now. As always, the pandemic and plastic problem is only being widely considered as the problem of ones with access to the mike rather than a problem concerning human lives in general.
For two years the world has been in the strong grip of the virus halting normal life. But now the times are changing and therefore one of the most concerning interest should be on this problem of plastic that was generated so passively in the world. As the pandemic had disrupted the normal world order for a great deal, now it is high time we look for the proper management of this waste accumulation that had happened. There are several proposals made for the proper management of these waste materials. Hospital wastes are highly hazardous in nature, therefore should be properly and strictly sterilized before being taken for further disposal procedures. Replacement of SUPs with more reusable alternatives would contribute to lowering plastic production. But all these measures have to be implemented with proper care and precision to not lead to more dangerous impacts.
For common people fighting against the pandemic, plastic accumulation or management would not be a serious problem concerning their daily life. But now we know how dangerous the situation has turned into our environment. So is it true that man has actually defeated the pandemic? On what cost? The cost of the environment or a greater good for humanity itself?
This big side effect of defeating the pandemic still remains unresolved in the world. It will remain so for a long time accumulated non-biodegradable–ly.
Keywords : Plastic, covid19, single-use plastics, health, environmentalism.
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