COVID-19 situation has changed the way we study, work, and do every human activity, especially environmental campaigns. Even before the COVID-19 situation, plastic pollution was considered a problem caused by over-consumption. COVID-19 is overwhelming the health care system capacity. The same situation is happening with the disposal of waste of many countries.
During this pandemic, according to Bengali Shanshak (2020), medical waste such as masks, sanitizers, gloves, and test skits has increased, making more exhaustive the management of waste. Therefore, COVID-19’s side effects like medical waste is exacerbating plastic pollution, which weaken the development of environmental sustainability.
While, pollution and emissions of CO2 have been reduced during this pandemic, side-effects like the increase of SUP (single-use plastic) represent a threat for the environment in terms of conservation and preservation. For example, in some countries, recycling processes have been halted to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In addition, waste management has been limited to the population (Zambrano-Monserratte M, 2020). Besides the lack of information about the disposal of surgical masks by citizens makes necessary a development of policies and measurement between businesses and governments to mitigate the plastic pollution.
The use of medical supplies, which usually are single-use plastic represent an obstacle to our efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Even though, some cities have an efficient waste disposal to deal with this new amount of waste, the disposal and recycling process have been cut out due to lockdown. For instance, some provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador have stopped using single plastic banning to avoid contamination through reusable containers or bags. On the other hand, cities from developing countries such as Manila, which produces approximately 300 tons of medical waste every day, may not have the necessary equipment to manage waste (Bengali Shanshak, 2020).
The treatment for medical waste disposal is completely different to other types of waste. This treatment is based on a steady state conditions where the waste is treated based on its condition, which it may not be prepared for the rapid increase of waste. (Klémes et al., 2020) With the rapid increase of medical waste, the capacity has been exceeded, making it necessary to build a new system to manage waste. This demonstrated the negatives effects of COVID-19 over waste management which has restricted and limited the capacities of many countries.
Besides, the reduction of plastic use has not only been affecting the health care system but also the business industry. For example, many supermarkets have started to demand the use of plastics bags instead of reusable bags, and coffee shops stopped allowing the use of reusable cups. This decision was made in order to reduce the spread of the virus; however, it could exacerbate the current issue. Besides, due to social distancing, we are required to stay in our homes, which have increase the online purchase of clothing, food, and other items.
This behavior is concerning for the environmental conservation because it increases the domestic waste per person. As a result, these new measurements led to an increase of waste, which also threat the conservation of the marine and terrestrial ecosystem.
What can we do?
Event though, we may not help to reduce the medical waste, we can start reducing our domestic waste by stop over consuming, cooking at home, and purchasing local products. For example, avoiding the use of plastic cutlery when buying food and making a supermarket´s list to avoid food waste while saving us money. Our behaviors and the way that we manage our waste during this pandemic could be a good impact for areas such as beaches.
Coastal areas are essential for the economic development of coastal communities; however, it is often contaminated by waste produced by human. Thus, the reduction of our waste during this quarantine could represent a good impact for the social development of many communities and the preservation of biodiversity.
In addition, we should change our behavior regarding waste disposal and support business by basing our actions in a circular economy. This system not only help to reduce waste but also to mitigate global warming. For instance, start doing compost and recycling in your house. The first step is to reduce our waste and then look for ways to reuse, recycle, and finally deliver the item to a recycling place. For example, you can reuse glass jars and bottles and with organic waste start composting which will benefit your plants.
On the other hand, remember that organizing and planning our strategies is important. Starting a zero-waste life is a personal challenge that in order to be achieved in a determined time, you will need to know your impact and actions towards the environment. Another great way to improve reduce plastic pollution during this pandemic, beside waste disposal, is to share all knowledge with our friends, family, and community.
Finally, I believe that the most significant thing that we can do during this time is to recognize the zero-waste culture by reducing, re-utilizing, and buying less.