Clean Hands Pollute the Earth: The Rise of Single-Use Plastics During COVID-19
Single-use personal protective wear is essential for healthcare and frontline workers. In addition, masks and gloves have been worn daily for the entire Canadian population last year. My question is: how is the rise of plastic use globally affecting the amount of pollution created? Are there any alternatives other than plastics we can use during the pandemic? During a time where we rely on single-use plastics for survival, it is more important than ever to consider the impact these substances have on nature. This article will explore the rise of plastic use during the pandemic and examine some potential solutions to limit the amount of microplastics in our ecosystem.
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, over one-third of the plastics Canada produces are single-use plastics which are the main contributors to the microplastics that reside in our freshwater and seas. Canada’s proposal to ban single-use plastics by 2021 is a potential solution to reduce this waste, but it has been temporarily placed on hold due to the growing reliance on single-use plastics during COVID-19.
Despite environmental concerns, the global plastic packaging market is booming as the demand for takeout containers rises the more that people decide not to cook or go to the grocery store. Since the oil market prices keep falling, plastic is cheaper than ever to produce, and the demand right now is high for single-use packaging. As for health equipment, Tanveer M. Adyel of Science Mag notes that we could be seeing a monthly global consumption and waste of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves if after lockdowns end the global public maintains the one disposable face mask a day norm.
Many people believe that the Earth has had some time to heal since there has been less human travel due to COVID-19. Signs of regrowth and rehabitization are booming worldwide, but nobody is considering how the increase of plastic production in our absence is contaminating our ecosystem and poses potential health threats to both wildlife and humans. The International Institute is currently studying the impact of microplastics on human health and the biodiversity of freshwater lakes for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area. Here they carefully add microplastics to an ecosystem that they can watch closely to examine the effects of long term microplastic pollution. Investing in these measures will help us learn how to recover ecosystems that have been damaged due to the increase in plastics.
In addition, there has been a reduction in proper recycling measures globally. In Canada alone, only 10% of most plastics are even recycled, which is why over 3 million tonnes of plastics enter our seas and landfills. One potential solution is to implement a circular economy for single-use plastics to eliminate waste and reuse resources to their maximum potential. Another solution is to challenge major companies in the supply chain by fighting for their global footprint transparency. Holding large companies accountable is something we can do as consumers to limit the use of plastics. There are also many alternatives to plastics that companies can use! One common alternative to plastics is bio-plastics made from polylactic acid-based blends or thermo-plastically modified starch. However, these bio-plastics, although popular, are often non-biodegradable. According to Earth Easy, some of the best eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics include mushroom packaging which is said to replace styrofoam, seaweed packaging, pressed hay, banana leaves bamboo.
You can take steps within your own life to cut down on plastic use. The first step is being aware of your own impact as a consumer. You can do this by calculating your global footprint online for free to understand how sustainably you are living. Finally, you can challenge policymakers to ban single-use plastics and implement a better recycling system for everyone to follow. To limit the amount of microplastics in our ecosystem, we must be more aware of how current levels of plastic use for health care measures will affect our global health in the long run.